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North Adams, Crane at Odds Over Reopening

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Crane Stationery apparently says its opening Friday. The city says it hasn't fulfilled all the obligations set out in an order by the mayor on Sunday and so can't open. 
But what if it does?
"I hope it doesn't come to that. But we are prepared to intervene," said Mayor Thomas Bernard on Thursday night. 
The legacy printer of fine papers and cards closed mid-March along with hundreds of other "non-essential" businesses at the order of Gov. Charlie Baker as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread within the state. 
Last week, the company owned by Mohawk Fine Papers of Cohoes, N.Y., announced it had received a $2 million federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to bring its employees back. 
Except the email sent out to employees sounded more like a layoff notice by telling them the plant would "wind down" operations and their jobs would end June 19. The next day, a press release said that wasn't true and that 15 percent of the workforce would stay on "to protect the future of the company."
The day after that, the mayor received a communication from Crane saying those 28 jobs would end in September. But that, too, the city was told, was not true. 
The questions about the company's decision to reopen operations at the Curran Highway plant led to an order by Bernard that the printer submit a health and safety plan and ensure that it's only doing essential work as outlined the state during the novel coronavirus. 
Elements of the company's products were deemed essential by the state Divison of Labor Standards because they supplied industries that fell in the essential list — like medicine and energy — or were being provided to individuals and organizations working remotely as allowed by the state. 
The mayor said Thursday night the Crane had not complied with one of the four points in the order: how it would determine that only essential orders were being processed. 
"They've substantially met three of them," he said. "They have not demonstrated or indicated how they plan to focus their time on essential work only and have challenged my right to make that requirement. And so, I have I told them this afternoon that they are not to open."
Bernard's order issued on Sunday said the company had to submit a plan in writing to the Board of Health explaining how COVID-19 precautions would be instituted; that the plant be inspected to confirm the precautions are in place; that it only do essential work; and, the piece at issue, "providing a list of essential operations businesses being served."
The mayor said the health and safety plan submitted by the company is "good and solid."
"I want to give them credit, they've done a very good job of putting a plan in place," he said. "What they have refused to do is indicate how they will focus on essential work."
Bernard said he was "absolutely within my authority" to prevent the plant from opening. He said he understood the company's desire to ensure the privacy of its clients but it was Crane's responsibility to come up with a plan that would show it's only doing essential business. 
He referred to the situation in mid-April in Pittsfield, when Annie Selke's Pine Cone Hill began shipping material for personal protective equipment and other items deemed essential. Pittsfield officials ordered it to cease when it failed to make clear it was not continuing commercial activity. The state allowed it reopen but with a warning to stick to "essential" work only. 
The mayor said his concern is for the employees and he's been frustrated by the miscommunications and changing stories that have left them in the middle of it. And other businesses have also been hurt by the pandemic, he said, not just Crane. 
He'd prefer everyone take a step back and deep breath and come to an agreement.
"What is it that is in the best interests of the Crane employees and, to be fair, Crane's essential business customers."

Tags: COVID-19,   Crane,   printing,   

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North Adams Committee Tweaking Solicitor Ordinance

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The General Government Committee is considering side-stepping a thorny problem about access to the city solicitor by rewriting an ordinance to more clearly spell out lines of communication. 
Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer said the wording in the ordinance had raised questions as to whether any single councilor has "unfettered access to the city solicitor." 
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The council had objected back in 2018 when the city switched over to KP Law as city solicitor, limiting council members' access to the Boston law firm. The council members had been used to contacting former City Solicitor John B. DeRosa, who'd been kept on retainer for 35 years before stepping down in March 2018.
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