A former United Furniture Industries employee claims the furniture maker, headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi, violated federal law by failing to give 60 days notice of the abrupt shutdown to nearly 2,700 employees and truck drivers who were out of work two days before Thanksgiving have informed.
Former UFI employees, who operate under the Lane Furniture brand name, were taken by surprise early Tuesday morning after receiving either an email or text message instructing them not to report for work that day because their jobs would be terminated immediately “due to unforeseen business circumstances.”
At the time of Wednesday’s publication, UFI CEO Todd Evans has not responded to FreightWaves’ requests for comment on what sparked the mass layoffs.
Toria Neal, a resident of Lee County, Mississippi who has worked for UFI for more than eight years, alleges in her proposed class action lawsuit that the company violated the federal Adaptation and Retraining Reporting Act (WARN) and failed to provide at least 60 days written notification of an impending closure.
In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, Neal alleges she and possibly thousands of other United employees received an email and/or text just minutes earlier “that they all terminate their employees with immediate effect”. midnight on Monday.
UFI’s message stated that the “terminations would be permanent and that all benefits would be terminated without the provision of COBRA.”
Langston & Lott, based in Booneville, Mississippi, filed the first class action lawsuit against United Furniture Industries, Inc., alleging it violated the WARN Act when it fired all 2,700 of its employees.
“Under the WARN Act, United Furniture employees were entitled to either a 60-day notice period or a 60-day severance payment — neither of which was granted,” Jack Simpson, attorney for Langston & Lott, told FreightWaves. “If we are appointed group counsel, we look forward to vigorously investigating United Furniture’s actions and seeking as much compensation as the terminated employees are legally entitled to.”
Thousands fired via email, text
“Upon direction of the Board of Directors of United Furniture Industries Inc. and all of its subsidiaries, we regret to report that unforeseen business circumstances have forced the Company to make the difficult decision to terminate the employment of all of its employees. effective immediately, November 21, 2022,” reads the statement to employees obtained by FreightWaves.
A former employee said generations of her family worked for Lane Furniture before United Furniture Industries bought the furniture maker from Heritage Home Group in 2017.
She said nothing prepared her and other family members who worked for the company for being fired by email or running out of health insurance.
“We would go to our friends’ houses and say, ‘Hey, this chair or piece of furniture was made in our factory,'” the former employee, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, told FreightWaves. “We were really proud of our work – and that’s how we’re treated.”
Some employees questioned the timing of UFI’s mass layoff just before Thanksgiving.
However, truck drivers from furniture delivery division UFI Transportation, who are currently making deliveries, “will be paid for the remainder of the week,” the company said in the letter to workers.
According to the UFI statement, it directs truckers with loads to “promptly return equipment, inventory, and shipping documents for the shipments that have been completed to one of the following locations: Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Verona, Mississippi; or Victorville, California.”
According to the Federal Motor Safety Administration’s SAFER website, UFI has 40 engines and 42 drivers.
In July, Pitchbook listed that the company employs nearly 3,000 people at its 18 plants and distribution centers in North Carolina, Mississippi and California, and Vietnam.
Another former employee said she knew the company was struggling, but had no idea UFI was laying off its entire workforce.
In late July, the furniture maker closed its plants in Winston-Salem and High Point, North Carolina, resulting in more than 270 workers losing their jobs, according to WARN Act notices filed with the North Carolina Department of Commerce at the time.
Another 220 jobs were cut at the company’s Amory, Mississippi plant in late July. “The new leadership has worked extremely hard to implement new processes,” the former employee told FreightWaves. “Too much effort was put into it for anyone to really know they were going to close overnight.”
While there was no communication from UFI executives as to what led to its abrupt closure, former employees received an update message late Tuesday about the collection of their belongings.
“Once the property manager can provide a safe and orderly process for former employees to collect their belongings, they will do so,” UFI/Lane Corporate Communications said in an email obtained by FreightWaves. “We are unsure of the timeline for this, but will be communicating proactively.”
Retrieving their belongings is the last thing on former workers’ minds, said one former employee.
“It’s not fair to the workers who worked so hard to be taken by surprise,” the employee told FreightWaves. “It’s not fair to a mother who has just had a baby to wonder if she even has health insurance that covers it. It is not fair to the cancer patient in the midst of chemotherapy how to pay for her treatments.”
This is an evolving story.
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