Fast-food companies have huge gap in pay

One of the issues that helped fuel last week's national fast-food workers strikes is the growing income disparity between rank-and-file workers and the chief executives in charge of those multi-billion-dollar companies.

As of 2012, the CEOs of fast-food chains earned an average of more than 1,200 times what the average fast-food worker made, according to Demos. The liberal-leaning think tank also noted that corporate leaders in the sector are among the highest-paid workers in America, with those chief executive officers earning, on average, $28.3 million last year.

That generous compensation comes at a time that some major fast-food chains are struggling, as consumer tastes change and people focus on eating more healthfully. Meanwhile, fast-food restaurant employees were on the bottom rung of the national economy when it came to pay.

In comparison, according to the AFL-CIO, the average, non-restaurant industry CEO made 331 times more than the average worker last year - still huge, but a considerably smaller divide than for fast-food execs.

Not that it's easy to spot the gulf in pay. In principal, the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law makes companies disclose the pay gap between their top executives and average employees. But that requirement has been postponed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under pressure from corporate lobbyists.

Not everyone agrees that fast-food CEOs make too much money. Donald Delves, founder and president of an executive pay consultancy, has argued that executive pay is not out of control. He notes that while overall CEO pay fell during the recession, it rose as corporate profits rebounded.

But that view doesn't seem to take into account the weak financial performance of some major fast-food players. Shares of industry leader McDonald's (MCD) have stagnated in recent years, for instance, with the company in October announcing another quarter of declining sales and profits.