On Oregon companies, worker pay, and transparency

The SEC yesterday finalized a long-awaited, controversial rule requiring public companies to disclose the ratio between the pay of their CEO and the average pay of their workers. I contributed reporting to an Oregon Business story about this rule last year, contacting almost all of Oregon's publicly traded companies to find out how the (then-proposed) regulation might affect them.

What didn't make it into that story (for the most part) was the lack of transparency I discovered among local public companies when it comes to worker pay. Despite the fact that these companies were certainly going to be required to disclose this information at some point—and I'll just leave aside the info's arguable value to investors and the public—they were outright cagey with the data.

Here's the breakdown: Of the 35 companies that I contacted, 15 never replied to multiple emailed requests for comment, including Lithia Motors, FLIR, and TriQuint. Three responded, but only to decline to comment, including two of the state's largest public companies, Precision Castparts and Columbia Sportswear. Other top Oregon public companies, including Nike and Schnitzer Steel, sent insubstantial replies. For example, Nike spokesman Ben Samples did not respond to my questions, instead providing a one-sentence statement: "Nike is aware of the proposed rule and will comply if and when it becomes effective for our company." 

Even among the companies that did send substantial replies, almost all said they didn't know the average pay of their workers or declined to provide that info. The only company that voluntarily disclosed its average worker pay was NW Natural. (It was $75,920, if you're curious.) 

Frankly, it's still not 100% clear to me why companies that had presumably made decisions about compensation based on the employment market and in consultation with HR pros wouldn't be able or willing to talk about those choices. But with the finalization of the pay-ratio rule, they'll have to be ready to have those conversations by 2018.

JF