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Crane Postpones Reopening; Bernard Asks for Clarity on Plant's Future
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
07:20PM / Monday, May 04, 2020
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The past week has been a roller coaster for the more than 200 workers at Crane Stationery. 
The communications coming out the company's parent, Mohawk Fine Papers of Cohoes, N.Y., have at times been contradictory with employees unsure of the future of the 220-year-old paper brand. 
The questions about the company's decision to reopen operations at the Curran Highway plant led to an order by Mayor Thomas Bernard that the printer submit a health safety plan and ensure that it's only doing essential work as outlined the state during the novel coronavirus.
This was greeted as a "retaliation" by Mohawk's chairman, Thomas D. O'Connor Jr., who told The Berkshire Eagle on Sunday that the company couldn't meet the city's demands in time to open on Monday and suggested the mayor was trying to run them out of town.
Bernard, in turn, says he just wants clarity on the company's plans because what he's being told isn't what's being communicated in writing. He's previously said city has stood ready to help the company in whatever way it can.
"I want to be willing to take a major employer in the city at their word they plan to remain an employer in the city," he said on Monday. "And that they plan to retain this brand in the city. But there's a lot questions and I'm not sure what the answer is."
Crane last week told employees in an email that it was making "the difficult decision to wind down operations" over the next six weeks, a communication widely interpreted by employees and local officials as indicating an eventual closure. 
Company officials the next day stated there was not an intention to close on June 19 but rather drastically reduce staff by 85 percent to keep the 220-year-old brand alive.
Bernard, however, received a letter on Friday (dated Wednesday, April 29) listing the positions being eliminated on June 19 and a second list, Exhibit B, of the final 28 jobs being eliminated on Sept. 30.
"The Company has had to make the very difficult decision to substantially reduce its workforce, effective June 19, 2020. Exhibit A identifies the affected job titles and number of employees in each title. Remaining employees will continue employment temporarily; their employment is expected to terminate effective September 30, 2020. Exhibit B identifies the affected job titles and number of these remaining employees in each title. This planned action is expected to be permanent."
The mayor said he was assured after getting the letter that the Sept. 30 date was incorrect. 
"It creates a great deal of uncertainty. So I would like to have some assurance that what was denied in conversation is that that denial is affirmed in print," he said, so it will be in his records of "these communications that says, yes, this company is committed to continuing operation with North Adams employees in North Adams."
Crane apparently does have plans on how it would operate to contain the spread of COVID-19. Employees needed this week were emailed on Sunday to ask if they would come in and given information on how they would operate, including staggered schedules and using different doors. Around 5 p.m., another email was sent telling them not to come in. 
Bernard issued his order  at about 3:30 p.m. on Sunday that the company had to abide by state health guidelines and be inspected. The order also calls for Crane to show how it will ensure only "essential" services will be provided. 
The state Department of Labor Services on Saturday determined Crane offers services to essential industries such as medicine and legal professionals, and to those working remote as required by Gov. Charlie Baker's order in March closing non-essential businesses, limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 people, and advising people to stay home. 
Company officials told The Eagle they have about 800 orders to fill but it's not clear how many of these would be considered "essential." Crane received around a $2 million federal Payroll Protection Program loan to bring its workers back from layoff forced by the governor's order. 
"I do see it as as my place to protect the community, protect our residents, our people who are our friends and neighbors and family members who are being being affected," said the mayor. "They're also being subjected to a great deal of uncertainty because of the miscommunications." 
A request for comment from Mohawk or Crane was not received prior to publication. We will update if one is received. 
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