Peeking at a Company’s Pay Rates

Company-specific compensation data is one of those rare areas in which more is known about people at the top of the social pyramid than those at the bottom. Publicly traded corporations are required to file proxy statements each year that disclose down to the last dollar what top executives are paid in salary, bonuses, long-term compensation, stock options and perks. We know what the big boss earns but generally not what the company pays its middle managers or hourly workers.

Glassdoor, a new website launched this week in beta form, starts to fill that information gap. The site was created by Rich Barton, the former Microsoft executive who founded Zillow, a popular website containing data on real estate values. Whereas Zillow is based at least in part on government data, Glassdoor relies on voluntary submissions by users who anonymously reveal their own salaries, along with information on vacation time, medical coverage and retirement benefits. Users are asked to specify their length of experience and geographic location, so that salary variations can be evaluated. Those who do not wish to name their employer can specify the size of the company and the industry sector.

As the site is just getting off the ground, Glassdoor’s data are far from comprehensive. But there are already, for instance, 60 salary reports covering computer networking giant Cisco Systems. The site also provides anonymous company evaluations by current and former employees, including one in which a former product manager at Cisco complained: “They will try to work you to death.”

While we wait for Glassdoor to grow into a richer source, it should be noted that there are some limited sources for company-specific wage and salary data on those who are not top executives. For example:

* A few states that disclose the economic development subsidies they give to companies ask those firms to report on the wages of the jobs they create. The best example is Illinois, which has a database of reports filed by companies with job creation statistics, including average salaries.

* Some jurisdictions that have enacted living wage laws require employers to file periodic reports that may become part of the public record either automatically or as the result of freedom-of-information requests.

* The U.S. Department of Labor has an online archive of collective bargaining agreements—which typically include wage rates and other conditions of employment—arranged by employer. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics has data by industry but not by specific company.)

* Companies in some regulated industries have to report payroll expenses. For example, airlines must disclose this and other operating and financial data on Form 41, which is submitted to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The BTS system is cumbersome to navigate, but the Airline Data Project at MIT has used it to compile handy summary tables of wage and salary rates by job category for each of the major carriers going back to 1995.

* And finally, you can always check want ads and job postings to look for salary figures offered by those companies that don’t hide behind the statement that the pay rate “depends on experience.”

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