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North Adams Mayor Issues Second Closure Order As Crane Standoff Continues

A sign that says "Crane" stands outside of a brick building
Josh Landes
The Crane Stationery Plant in North Adams, Massachusetts

The Crane Stationery Plant in North Adams, Massachusetts is continuing to operate against the orders of Mayor Tom Bernard.

Monday marked the second full workday at the plant in defiance of city demands that the company not open unless it only works on projects directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Tom Bernard’s first order to the company – owned by Cohoes, New York-based Mohawk Paper – was released May 3rd. In a statement Friday, Mohawk CEO Tom O’Connor accused Bernard of attempting to prevent the plant’s reopening despite its designation by the state as an essential business.

The points of conflict between the company and the city are twofold.

For one, the attempt to reopen the plant for the first time since mid-March comes after a much-criticized communication to 229 employees in late April that many read as saying the plant would close in mid-June. Crane later clarified that it was laying off 85% of its workforce, not shuttering the plant entirely.

The second issue – which motivated Bernard’s order to Crane – concerns what work is being done at the plant during the pandemic. Both the city and company cite the same Department of Labor Standards evaluation of the plant, which recognizes that some of its work supports and supplies essential businesses in the legal, medical, and energy sectors, thus making it in turn an essential business. In the same May 2nd email, the DLS says that it “encouraged, although not required that Crane Stationery stop the non-essential work at the facility or to have it performed remotely.” Noting that big box stores like Walmart are allowed to do both essential and nonessential work without closing, the DLS’s guidance notes that it “does not issue cease and desist orders to close businesses if they provide both essential and non-essential products or services.”

O’Connor says Bernard is overruling the state’s determination, overstepping his authority, and singling out Crane with an order he isn’t applying to big box stores.

O’Connor did not respond to request for comment on this story by WAMC.

“It’s not an issue of overruling – it’s an issue of strengthening and enhancing, which is consistent not only with the intent of the state order but with how local authority works," said the mayor. "We can be more restrictive, we cannot be less restrictive than the state.”

Bernard says Crane’s resistance to his order to solely focus on essential business is a false equivalency, and that he believes the work they are doing now does not observe the order.

“Rather than complying with the city’s order, they are indulging in whataboutism, in inaccurate comparisons,” he told WAMC.

Bernard says raising Walmart is a distraction from Crane’s own issues, saying that the store has worked with the city on pandemic-related demands.

“They voluntarily limited their capacity, they have taken steps to ensure safety as far as employees, and we did put a further cap on their occupancies,” said Bernard.

He did not address the question of limiting their sales of non-essential goods.

The mayor rejected the idea that his order is retaliation following Crane’s layoff notice, describing the two as “parallel developments.”

“The confusion surrounding Crane’s intentions and their future plans in North Adams is one issue, the essential business is another one,” he told WAMC.

Bernard says he issued a further order to Crane, saying that the business has not yet demonstrated compliance with the city’s first order on May 3rd.

“They ignored the communication from the city on Friday," he said. "I expect they will ignore this one as well, and we will take it to the next level.”

Bernard explicitly mentioned his ability to bring in law enforcement to carry out his closure order in an interview with WAMC last week, but did not confirm that the move constituted “the next level” at this time.

“I’m going to see what happens with this one, and then I’ll make a determination,” Bernard told WAMC.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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