The 12 Companies Paying Americans the Least

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12. J.C. Penney
> U.S. workforce: 159,000
> Highest compensation: $53,281,505
> Revenue: $17.26 billion
> Net income: -$152 million
> No. of U.S. stores: 1,102

J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE: JCP) is poor example of a low-wage employer that has rebounded from the recession stronger than ever. So far, Penney’s attempts at a turnaround have failed, and it is struggling just to stay afloat. The retailer has posted a big third-quarter loss, its shares tanked and Standard & Poor’s lowered its credit rating deeper into junk status. If J.C. Penney cannot get some traction during the holiday season, employees no doubt will face more layoffs. It would not surprise many analysts if the retailer went the way of Woolworth’s and Montgomery Ward.

11. Darden Restaurants
> U.S. workforce:
165,475
> Highest compensation:
$8,480,148
> Revenue:
$8.00 billion
> Net income:
$475.5 million
> No. of U.S. stores:
1,994

A lawsuit filed in September charged Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) with violating federal labor laws by underpaying thousands of servers across the country at its Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster chains. The action represented employees who who worked for the company going back to Aug. 2009 and sought millions of dollars in back wages and other compensation. “We’re seeking not only to correct the wrongs that have occurred at Darden, but hopefully this will stimulate change across the country,” said a lead attorney in the case. While the compensation of CEO Clarence Otis Jr. did drop from $8.48 million in 2011 to $8.08 million in 2012, that cannot be much comfort to those at the bottom of the pay scale at Darden.

Also Read: America’s Least Valuable CEOs

10. Wendy’s
> U.S. workforce:
168,672
> CEO compensation:
$16,537,725
> Revenue:
$2.13 billion
> Net income:
$12.9 million
> No. of U.S. stores:
6,594

The Wendy’s Company (NYSE: WEN) efforts to remake itself appear to be paying off. Same-store sales have risen for six straight quarters, and the company tries to sidle away from the traditional fast-food category toward the fast-casual arena occupied by the likes of Panera Bread Co. (NASDAQ: PNRA) and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG). Investors have been rewarded with a recent boost to the quarterly dividend to $0.04 per share from $0.02 per share, though shares have been largely range-bound between $4 and $5 for almost four years. It remains to be seen whether Wendy’s employees will benefit from the recent success. It’s interesting to note that the top compensation package at Wendy’s is greater than those at McDonald’s or Starbucks.

9. Macy’s
> U.S. workforce:
171,000
> CEO compensation:
$17,650,702
> Revenue:
$26.41 billion
> Net income:
$1.26 billion
> No. of U.S. stores:
842

Unlike many of the companies on the list, some of Macy’s (NYSE: M) workers are members of a union and they have achieved several concessions from the company. Specifically, next spring, senior members of the retail unions at New York City’s Bloomingdales and Macy’s will be able to choose their preferred hours of work by setting their own schedules and vacation time. According to UPI, “these gains … are in contrast to the scheduling uncertainties rampant in an increasingly ‘just in time’ work force.” While workers count this as a small victory, only 4% of Macy’s and Bloomingdales’ combined 171,000 employees are members of a union.