Bonuses at Fraser small compared to other mills

Posted Feb. 15, 2010, at 9:21 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:34 a.m.

MADAWASKA, Maine — There is still money to be made in the paper industry.

The bonuses paid to Fraser Papers Inc. executives while the company tumbled into bankruptcy protection last year generally matched or were well under those paid to other executives at competing paper companies, a survey Monday of executive bonuses reveals.

At Verso Papers, which owns paper mills in Jay and Bucksport and two others in Minnesota, President and Chief Executive Officer Michael A. Jackson received a $184,440 bonus in 2008, according to Morningstar Inc., which advertises itself as a leading provider of independent investment research in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

Four other top executives under Jackson received bonuses ranging from $97,626 to $65,000, or $514,970 in total in 2008, a Morningstar report indicated.

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At NewPage Corp., which employs 1,100 workers at its Rumford pulp mill and owns nine other mills in Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nova Scotia, the company’s resigning director, president and chief executive officer, Richard D. Willett Jr., earned a severance payment last month equal to two times his current base salary, or a total of $1.3 million.

Willett received an annual bonus payment of $1 million under the NewPage Corp. Performance Excellence Plan and the NewPage Corp. Profit Sharing Plan for his performance in 2009.

Willett will also remain eligible for a prorated bonus payment for performance in 2010, Morningstar indicates.

His replacement, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mark A. Suwyn, and three senior vice presidents will, beyond their base salaries, earn service and performance awards of $1.8 million to $2.5 million in 2010 if their performance goals are met.

Duane Lugdon, Maine’s United Steelworkers Union international representative, said he sees the executive bonuses as symptomatic of a larger problem afflicting the state’s papermaking industry and American industry as a whole: greed.

“This has been a decade of employees getting less and executives getting more, and it’s reprehensible to see it happen at a time when the [paper] industry is seeking concessions from its employees,” Lugdon said Monday.

“There is very little conscience left in American industry,” he added. “In general, I think industry czars line their pockets even when the employees are being cut back or laid off. To me, it’s not one bit different than those Wall Street executives that we read about every day. It’s abuse.”

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