There must be a hundred different film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The character of miserly but redeemable Ebenezer Scrooge has been played by everyone from Michael Caine to Jim Carrey to Patrick Stewart. If you turn on your TV in the month of December, you’re as likely as not to hear the cheerful voice of Tiny Tim or the clanking chains of the ghost of Jacob Marley.

Still, some people aren’t getting the message.

Case in point are the executives of Verso Paper Corp., who continue to show an inhumanity and greed that can only be described as “Scroogish.” They’ve set aside millions for their own bonuses this year but are flouting Maine law and refusing severance pay to workers they laid off from the Bucksport mill.

As the mill shutdown is completed this week, more than 500 workers will be facing the holidays without an income. State law, written exactly for these kinds of situations, says that employees of large corporations like Verso are eligible for severance pay worth one week’s salary for each year of employment if their mill is shuttered, to be paid within one regular pay period after their last full day of work.

Maine’s Department of Labor has notified Verso of this provision and informed the company that it must make good on these payments by Jan. 8, but the company is refusing to comply. Company officials say the law doesn’t apply to them and that they may not make any payments at all for three months.

State officials worry that the company may even attempt some maneuver before then, like declaring bankruptcy, to avoid making any payments at all.

The workers in Bucksport are being denied the compensation they earned over years and decades, even as they and their families face the coldest months of the winter.

David J. Paterson, CEO of Verso Paper Corp., on the other hand, is doing pretty well.

Paterson had a great Christmas last year. According to reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he received a year-end bonus of $527,875. With his salary, benefits and stock perks, his total compensation for the year was $1,470,723.

The company’s four senior vice presidents also had excellent holidays, receiving an average bonus of more than $200,000 each.

They’re set to have another merry Christmas this year. In February, Verso set aside another $8.4 million for their executive bonus program, which they call the “Verso Incentive Plan” or just “the VIP.”

Unlike the Bucksport millworkers, the Verso executives don’t have to worry about severance pay if they experience a sudden change in employment. Paterson alone has a golden parachute worth more than $2 million waiting for him in the event of his termination or resignation.

Even more galling is how much the taxpayers of Maine have paid to subsidize this largesse. According to media reports, the company has been one of the largest recipients of state business equipment tax rebates, raking in about $4 million every year from the program. In 2010, Verso also received a $2 million grant from the state to lower its energy costs, and it’s the beneficiary of a $10 million tax increment financing deal from the town of Bucksport.

At this point, it seems unlikely that Verso executives will have a sudden, Christmas-inspired change of heart, which is why Maine lawmakers have begun doing what they can to pressure the company to comply with the law. Legislative leaders from both parties this week called on Verso to make good on the severance payments, and Gov. LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills have threatened a lawsuit.

“This is the right thing to do, it’s the lawful thing to do,” House Speaker Mark Eves, who has been particularly vocal on the issue, told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. “The coldest parts of the winter are coming. It’s a pretty cold day out there right now. Christmas is here, the holidays are here and these workers have earned this.”

Unfortunately, a lawsuit likely wouldn’t be effective in time, and there are few options to compel action from a corporation as powerful as Verso.

This inequality in wealth and influence is a weakness in our government and our society that dates to Dickens’ time. It’s a problem that’s up to us to address, because it’s very unlikely that a group of time-traveling ghosts are going to show up to make things right.

Although, if I were Paterson, I’d still keep an ear out for the clanking of spectral chains.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping

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