Cohoes, New York-based Mohawk Paper is refuting published reports that Crane Stationery Plant in North Adams, Massachusetts will close in June. But most of the workforce is being let go.
Since mid-March, the 220-year-old plant – long renowned for its production of high-quality paper products – has sat dormant, just south of downtown. Wednesday afternoon, many of its almost 230 staff members received a message from Crane Stationery’s Chief Operating Officer, Dean Daigle, saying after June 19th, they would no longer be employed by the company.
“I really don’t have the words. I just can’t believe it. I’m in shock," said Adriene Davine, who has worked at Crane Stationery for the past 31 years. “I grew up in North Adams all my life. I put my heart and soul into the company. I loved the company. It really upsets me to get an email like that after so many years.”
A day later, plant owner Mohawk Paper – which bought the facility in 2018 – clarified that the email had been widely misinterpreted.
Daigle’s email said that the company had made the “very difficult decision to wind down operations at Crane.”
CEO and Chairman of the Board Tom O’Connor says that refers to sweeping layoffs and reduced operations after June 19th.
“We will be working at roughly 15% of the current workforce,” said O'Connor.
Mohawk has been able to put all of the plant’s workers back on payroll with benefits as of May 4th through a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan after six weeks when many experienced furloughs. But O’Connor says that the twin blows of a gradual move away from paper goods and pandemic-related closures have pushed the company to make the cuts.
“Before this started, our largest customer filed for bankruptcy in January, which was a hit to the business," he told WAMC. "When COVID-19 hit, our network of retailers that we sell through have all been closed for the last few months. Obviously, wedding is a large part of our business, and those are currently not happening as well.”
That customer was Tennessee-based stationery and greeting card retailer Papyrus.
The way the company made the announcement about cuts has rankled many employees.
“When Mohawk bought it, they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a family business!’ Nah," said Cindy Peterson, who has worked at the plant full-time since 2013. She described a tight-knit staff working together in the noisy plant, where the scent of intermingling chemicals used in the presses fills the air.
“We all got the same exact email," said Peterson. "The only thing that was different was our names. They just changed the names.”
News of the layoffs spread quickly, and some local news outlets reported that the plant was closing.
“It was a communication to employees and apparently it was circulated outside of Crane, which is, you know – that stuff happens," said O'Connor. "But it was definitely misinterpreted.”
In Daigle’s email to laid-off staffers, he says that employee group health insurance benefits will continue through June 30th, with the cost of premiums deducted from their pay.
Not just employees were put off by the email.
“I’m concerned for all of the Crane employees," said North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard. "This is an incredibly tough piece of news, and the way that it was communicated to employees and the community created confusion, and that’s the back and forth.”
“Well I was a little bit shocked by it when the mayor called me last night and told me what had taken place," said 1st Berkshire District State Representative John Barrett, "and the way that Crane went about it and notifying the employees through an email and not even advising the mayor or state rep or anybody else as to what was going on there.”
A former long-time North Adams mayor, Barrett characterizes the layoffs as a devastating blow to the Northern Berkshires. He says he and other local leaders were led to believe that the plant was doing well.
“I think the sad part of it is that the city and in turn the state wasn’t given the opportunity to possibly help them through some of these problems and maybe be able to do something,” said the state representative.
Barrett says he’s contacted state leaders including Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito about the situation.
For now, longtime Crane staffers like Adriene Davine are scrambling.
“I don’t know at this point what will happen to me," Davine told WAMC. "I have a home here. I have a mortgage to pay, and I’m scared. I don’t know where to turn to for help, so I don’t know at this point what’ll happen, if I’ll have to sell my home and move elsewhere to a bigger city perhaps to try to find some work.”