NORTH ADAMS — The mayor of North Adams is calling on Crane Stationery Co. to clarify its plans for manufacturing operations in the city, citing "inconsistencies" in public and private statements. Not just when it will reopen, a development that did not come as expected Monday, but the entire future of one of the city's largest employers.
Mayor Thomas Bernard released an April 29 letter from Crane in which the company disclosed that in addition to layoffs planned for June 19, the company expects to terminate the work of all remaining employees in September.
Thomas D. O'Connor Jr., Mohawk's CEO and chairman, told The Eagle that the notice of a full closing, signed by Chief Operating Officer Dean Daigle, was sent in error — and said he had informed Bernard of that.
But Bernard on Monday said company messages about its operations at the city's industrial park, which remain shut down, "have been contradictory and inconsistent."
He called on Crane and its corporate parent, Mohawk, to "take action to resolve the inconsistencies in communication that have contributed to the recent confusion."
"This lack of clarity is not helpful to Crane's employees, North Adams residents, or the state and local leaders, including me, who are prepared to bring every resource available to bear to in order to support Crane's employees and the company's continuing operations in North Adams in the weeks and months to come," Bernard said.
He sent his statement to Crane and Mohawk officials. O'Connor, Mohawk's leader, could not be reached Monday for further comment on Bernard's call for information.
Earlier Monday, Bernard said he was asked by Crane to provide proof to the company that he holds statutory authority to impose conditions on the plant's reopening.
On Sunday, Crane called off efforts to restart production, after having been closed since March due to the pandemic. It took that action a day after receiving a determination from the state that it qualifies as an essential business — and hours after receiving a request from Bernard specifying steps it must take before calling workers back. On Sunday, O'Connor said he viewed the city's requests as a form of "retaliation."
"He wants to come in and monitor what we print," O'Connor said of the mayor. "He doesn't have the right to look at private invoices. We feel like we're being run out of town."
Bernard said he plans to show Crane and Mohawk that as the city's chief executive, he holds the power to require the firm to meet conditions before reopening.
"I will provide them with the specifications on that," he said of his statutory authority.The mayor's conditions on reopening include allowing health and building inspectors inside the company's two buildings off Route 8 south of downtown to check on safety precautions.
The order also asks Crane to explain in writing steps it will take to protect employees from possible contagion amid the pandemic, as well as document that all of the work it will do qualifies as "essential."The company cannot reopen without written approval from the city. Bernard said inspectors will be scheduled to visit after the city receives documents and responses from Crane.
But on Monday, the mayor added another request.
"I call upon the ownership and management of Crane Stationery and Mohawk paper to immediately and publicly issue a statement that clarifies the future of Crane Stationery in North Adams," Bernard said. "Crane's employees, our community, and local leaders stand ready to help secure Crane's future. My door is open to the Crane team, but we all deserve and expect transparency and truth from the company and its management," he said.
In his statement Monday, Bernard expressed concern for plant workers and termed the past week "a turbulent and confusing one for the employees of Crane Stationery, their families, friends, and neighbors, and our entire North Adams community."
Bernard cited three instances in which he believes the company's communications with workers and the city fell short.
— The first was the April 29 email sent to workers saying they would be laid off June 19 — after being called back to work in shifts underwritten by a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.
In that email, the company said it "had to make the very difficult decision to wind down operations at Crane."
— The second was a statement the following day that said Crane would continue to operate. In that release, the company said: "We have identified approximately 15 percent of the workforce who will continue in their employment and will continue operations of the company."
— The third was another document, dated April 29 but received Friday by Bernard, in which Crane said that roughly three months after the June 19 layoffs, all workers would lose their positions. The letter included an exhibit listing affected job titles not only for the June 19 layoffs, but other job terminations to come.
Bernard confirmed that O'Connor said the message about the September closing was sent in error. But in his statement, the mayor faulted the company nonetheless.
"The fact the letter was sent further contributes to the atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding Crane," Bernard wrote. He said the company's relations with the city "have been complicated by contradiction, inaccuracy, miscommunication, and restatement of facts."
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.