Iowa Workers Asked To Sacrifice For Italian Billionaire Owner

Exor CEO John Elkann. Exor is the parent company of CNH Industrial (CNHi)/Getty Images

As union workers at Case New Holland plants in Burlington, Iowa and Racine, Wisconsin continue their labor strike, it’s worth considering how easily the company could give workers everything they wanted—and more.

That’s because the company is raking in healthy, even record profits, while its owner is drenched in extreme wealth. But those profits are going to ever-increasing pay for their shareholders and top executives, not to the workers who are actually producing the goods.

Pay disparities

If you thought the COVID pandemic and resulting focus on an essential workforce meant corporations would shift their focus to how workers were doing, you’d be wrong: Over the last three years, CEO pay actually increased 31% while the average worker’s pay rose just 11%.

Large majorities of Americans want companies to pay workers enough to make ends meet, to pay workers enough so they don’t have to rely on public assistance, regularly increase wages to keep up with inflation and the cost of living, and provide quality health insurance, according to a recent Just Capital study.

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Yet only about a third of 22 companies surveyed earlier this year pay at least half of their workers a living wage, despite raking in enormous profits that went directly to their rich shareholders (which generally includes their top executives as well).

“The 16 companies that repurchased nearly $50 billion of their shares could have raised the annual pay of their median worker by an average of 40% if they had redirected that money to employees,” the Brookings report from April said.

Let’s focus in on our first company whose workers are striking for better pay: Case-New Holland International.

CNHi isn’t hard up for cash

CNHi is a British-American corporation controlled and mainly owned by Dutch investment company Exor.

Exor is controlled by the wealthy Agnelli family, the founders of the Italian car company Fiat. Exor made $136 billion in revenue in 2021 alone.

John Elkann, chairman and CEO of Exor, made an estimated $100 million in 2021. Meanwhile, a first-shift tractor loader at CNHi in the US makes an average of $36,000 per year.

Skipper Giovanni Soldini (L) and chairman of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV John Elkann attend the Maserati Multi70 press conference at YCM on June 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Guido De Bortoli/Getty Images)

How’d he get so rich? The same way nearly all the super rich do: Elkann was born into an Italian multi-billionaire family.

Collaboration with Fascists in WW2

The Agnelli family has been described as “the Kennedys of Italy” for their wealth, political connections, rich lifestyles and tabloid drama.

Patriarch Giovanni Agnelli, who started the company as Fiat, and his heirs were quite wealthy and politically and royally connected: Agnelli married the daughter of an Italian duke, a tradition his children and grandchildren would continue.

Agnelli’s father was mayor of his Italian hometown, and Agnelli himself would be mayor of that town beginning in 1895 until his death in 1945. He was also appointed as an Italian senator by dictator Benito Mussolini into the Fascist Party. Fiat would become a key producer of the Italian war machine.

Agnelli Sr. also aligned himself—and his company—with Mussolini and his German allies, and even provided equipment to Nazi Germany.

Those deals with the devils nearly lost Agnelli Sr. his entire company after World War II, but an Italian court acquitted him and allowed him to continue ownership.

Good thing, because that blood money proved profitable to Agnelli’s heirs over the years.

Affairs and more deals with murderous dictators

One of Agnelli’s sons, Giovanni “Gianni” Agnelli Jr. (who fought for the Italian Fascists in WWII), would take over the family business for the next several decades.

Under his reign, he grew Fiat Group into the largest private employer in Italy, acquired sexy car makers such as Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, and bought a soccer club, newspapers, and even a vermouth company, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Gianni also seemed to be unfaithful to his wife (herself Italian nobility): He had rumored but well-publicized affairs with the likes of Rita Heyworth and even Jacqueline Kennedy.

And he had his own deals with the devil:

In 1977, as Fiat struggled, Gianni invited Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi—who would later be accused of financing global terrorism and the systematic torture and murder of his political enemies—to help rescue the company.

Al-Qaddafi bought a 15% stake in Fiat through his country’s investment company, Lafico. That company still owns around 2% of Fiat, as well as 7.5% of Agnelli-owned Juventus football club.

Elkann could buy your house every day

Current CEO and great-grandson Elkann—one of the beneficiaries of all that money from those controversial deals—has an estimated net worth of $2 billion, according to Forbes.

CEO of Exor, Chairman of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles John Elkann and his wife Lavinia Borromeo attend the men’s final during day 15 of the 2019 French Open at Roland Garros stadium on June 9, 2019, in Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

To recap, Elkann makes $100 million a year, or nearly $274,000 every single day. You could buy a fairly large house in Iowa every single day with that kind of money.

Actually, given that the average Iowa house costs around $193,000, Elkann could buy a house in Iowa and have enough to buy an extra Fiat AND Alfa Romeo vehicle per day, too.

We’re just saying: It seems like the Agnellis can afford to pay their workers a living wage.


By Amie Rivers

Have a story idea for me? Email amie at I’m also available by text, WhatsApp and Signal at (319) 239-0350, or find me on TwitterTikTokInstagram and Facebook.

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2 Comments on "Iowa Workers Asked To Sacrifice For Italian Billionaire Owner"

  • Very good article, Amie. Your mom would be proud. Kay and I were colleagues at MCC for many years. We knew each other at UNI too because we were both Spanish majors, though I was a few years older than her. We(Dennis and I) retired to our family farm north of Burlington after we retired. Every time we go into town, we see those striking workers holding out for a better settlement. We feel so bad for them. It’s been over 4 months and everyone knows the company can afford to pay them more.
    P.S.: I really enjoy Iowa Starting Line. So happy you joined them recently.

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