Crane hit with $1,000 daily fine for violating order

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NORTH ADAMS — Crane Stationery Co. operated for a second day Monday in violation of conditions set by North Adams' mayor, prompting the city to impose the first of what could be $1,000 daily fines.

On Sunday, Health Inspector Michael Moore issued an emergency order to a Crane executive ordering the company to comply with conditions set the week before by Mayor Thomas Bernard. Crane called employees back to work Friday in defiance of the earlier order, which required it to document that work being done at the Curran Highway plant is "essential" under restricted business operations during the pandemic.

"As of this date, you have failed to comply," Moore wrote, citing three provisions in Bernard's original order. "I, therefore, find that you are in violation and that the operations at your facility are or may be a cause of sickness in the City of North Adams."

In addition to financial penalties, the city told Crane it could be subject to an order to close and face the loss of licenses or permits it holds for its plant in the Robert Hardman Industrial Park off Route 8.

Bernard said he acted originally to prevent any of the plant's roughly 230 workers from being exposed to the coronavirus while fulfilling nonessential duties. Then over the weekend, after Crane declined to reveal the nature of the work, he decided to up the ante.

"Acting within the scope of the city's responsibility, we needed something greater, which is why I strengthened the order," Bernard said.

Moore's letter said the company failed to comply not only with the order Bernard issued May 3, but with Gov. Charlie Baker's COVID-19 Order No. 13. That document lays out which business activities are allowable.

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On May 2, Crane asked the state Department of Labor Standards to determine whether it could reopen. Len Evers, an inspector with the department, said that some of Crane's work qualified because its stationery is used by law firms and medical offices.

But not all of Crane's inventory qualifies, Evers said, and he encouraged the company to avoid nonessential work, while noting that the state will not require that cessation. In its communications with employees, Crane appears to take Evers' finding as a blanket go-ahead.

'Impose restrictions'

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The company is challenging Bernard's authority. On Friday, Thomas D. O'Connor Jr., the CEO and chairman of Crane's parent, Mohawk Fine Papers, told workers in an email that it would be "virtually impossible" for the company to prove to the city that it is engaged only in essential work.

"He is trying to impose restrictions on Crane that we do not believe he has the authority to impose," O'Connor wrote.

Bernard has been advised by the city's law firm that he does possess the power to set conditions on the plant's operations.

On Sunday, Moore told Bart Robinson, Crane's chief revenue officer, that it had 24 hours "to correct the situation by immediately demonstrating your compliance ."

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Robinson could not be reached to answer whether the company plans to continue operating and if it will appeal Moore's order.

Crane has the right to appeal within seven days, but according to the terms of the order, must first comply with the city's directives.

In the days after the May 3 order, the company provided information about how it would revamp the plant's operations to provide more space between workers. But it drew the line at documenting the nature of the work.

In his email to employees Friday, O'Connor said he shared Bernard's concern "that the safety and welfare of our employees should always come first."

To address that, O'Connor said Crane had cut back on the number of machines to be used, is supplying face masks and gloves, is requiring that people practice social distancing and is adjusting shift start and stop times to reduce the possibility of contact within the plant.

If it elects to appeal, the company could resolve the conflict by providing proof that all of the work it is doing qualifies as essential, Moore's letter says.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


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