NORTH ADAMS — Crane Stationery Co. restarted operations Friday in defiance of North Adams' mayor, claiming that it isn't required to prove its printing business qualifies as "essential" under pandemic rules.
Employees returned to work at Crane buildings in the city's industrial park five days after the company called off a planned reopening because of conditions put in place Sunday by Mayor Thomas Bernard.
The city found Crane to be in violation of Bernard's reopening conditions and ordered it to close. Crane did not comply.
"They chose to ignore that," Bernard said Friday night. The mayor is consulting with the city's attorney and plans to issue an enhanced order.
"This is a very sad and unfortunate situation that creates further doubt and uncertainty for employees," Bernard said. "My position has not changed. They have not complied with the conditions of the May 3 order."
In that document, Bernard required Crane to allow health and building inspectors inside its Curran Highway buildings to check on safety precautions. Bernard asked Crane to explain in writing to the city's Board of Health the precautions it will take to protect employees from possible contagion.
While the company had responded to those requests, it did not document that all of the work it would do qualifies as "essential."
Late Friday, the company accused Bernard of making "false claims" about Crane and overstepping his authority in a week during which a top executive termed the city's response "retaliatory."
In a Friday letter to employees, Thomas D. O'Connor Jr., the CEO and chairman of Crane's parent, Mohawk Fine Papers, apologized for confusion about the company's status. He also acknowledged that word the week before of a planned "winding down" of Crane operations led some to think the firm will shut entirely when it lays off 85 percent of its staff in June.
But, O'Connor took aim at Bernard's handling of the company's attempt to rebound after two weeks of being shuttered.
"The Mayor is trying to force the company to give him a plan to show him that we are only working on orders for essential businesses," O'Connor wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Eagle. "Not only would this task be virtually impossible for us to accomplish — a point which we have communicated — but we believe his actions are in violation of the Governor's Order and the State's designation of Crane as an `essential business.' "
Bernard said he holds the authority as mayor to set conditions for business operations during the pandemic.
O'Connor said the company believes the law is on its side.
"It is very important to us that you know we did not undertake this decision lightly," he told employees, "that it was made with careful legal consideration. We are very disappointed by [Bernard's] actions, which we feel are beyond his authority, and that his arguments are misleading."
An employee of the state Department of Labor Standards certified Saturday that some aspects of Crane's business can be considered "essential," while others would fail to qualify.
After reviewing that finding, Bernard required Crane to document that planned work fell into the "essential" category. The finding noted that state officials have not prevented business operations, such as large retail stores, from selling nonessential goods.
Crane contends that Bernard has allowed at least one other North Adams printing business to operate. The company accused the mayor of "trying to overrule the State's determination, something he does not have the authority to do."
Bernard said he is acting, in an emergency, to protect the health and safety of workers. He said the state order the company cites — before it received a separate ruling last weekend — did not protect Crane from review.
"Under the terms of that order, Crane is not an essential business," Bernard said.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.