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The pay gap is a gulf in Nebraska, according to a study released by the AFL-CIO. 

The difference between what a corporate chief executive makes and what the average worker is paid in Nebraska is second largest among the states, behind only Michigan, according to the data, released as the AFL-CIO campaigns to raise minimum wages nationally or at state levels.  

According to the AFL-CIO’s 2014 Executive PayWatch website, the CEO of a publicly traded company based in Nebraska made an average of $6,342,786, 170 times more than the $37,204 average paid to the Nebraska worker. When compared to the earnings of minimum wage workers who make $7.25 per hour in Nebraska, the gap between CEO and worker pay jumps up to a 421:1 ratio, the data showed.

The executive pay figures were taken from federal securities filings for companies based in Nebraska, in order of their CEO's compensation, from highest to lowest: West Corp., Union Pacific Corp., ConAgra Foods, Buckle Inc., TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., Valmont Industries, Cabela's Inc., Green Plains Renewable Energy, Lindsay Corp., Werner Enterprises, Gordmans Stores, Nelnet, Berkshire Hathaway and National Research Corp. 

The highest paid CEO in the state of Nebraska was Thomas B. Barker of West Corp., but that's based on fiscal 2012 data and includes all forms of compensation. It added up to $19.87 million. He makes 573 times more than the average worker and 1,318 times more than minimum wage workers in Nebraska, the data showed.

“Here in Nebraska far too many hardworking people are struggling to make ends meet even while working for highly profitable companies. A raise in the minimum wage is long overdue,” said Rodney D. Vlcek of Lincoln, president of the Nebraska State AFL-CIO, in a press release. “CEO PayWatch is an effective tool to show workers that it is time for CEOs to compensate their hardworking employees fairly once and for all.”

A spokesman for West Corp. said the $19.87 million included $7.8 million in dividends on company stock, dividends paid to all shareholders. "We were not required to include dividends with compensation as we noted in this year’s proxy statement," said Dave Pleiss, vice president of investor and public relations, in an email. "We reported total compensation in 2012 of $12.4 million for Mr. Barker.

The company's 2013 proxy statement shows Barker’s compensation in 2013 was $5.19 million, he said.

The point of the labor federation's information campaign is raising the pay of those who make the least.

"While many companies may argue that they can’t afford to raise wages, across the country the nation’s largest companies are earning higher profits per employee than they did five years ago," the unions said. "In 2013, the S&P 500 Index companies earned $41,249 in profits per employee, a 38 percent increase."

U.S. CEOs -- typically more highly paid than those in other nations -- were compensated an average of $11.7 million in 2013, the data showed. That means CEOs were paid 331 times that of the average worker and 774 times more than workers making minimum wage, according to PayWatch.

The federation said CEO compensation data were obtained from proxy statements filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for the latest fiscal years. The average annual income earned by workers is taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics Survey—Average hours and earnings of production and non-supervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or at dpiersol@journalstar.com. Twitter@RichardPiersol

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