As the workers of United Furniture Industries were preparing for Thanksgiving last week, their employer was preparing 2,700 pink slips.
The layoff notices came in texts and emails telling workers in North Carolina, Mississippi and California they no longer had jobs or benefits, according to the New York Post. The company made Lane brand home furnishings.
“At the instruction of the board of directors … we regret to inform you that due to unforeseen business circumstances, the company has been forced to make the difficult decision to terminate the employment of all its employees, effective immediately, on Nov. 21,” the messages, sent overnight Monday and into Tuesday, said.
“Your layoff from the company is expected to be permanent and all benefits will be terminated immediately without provision of COBRA,” the notice said.
— New York Post (@nypost) November 25, 2022
Drivers on the road as the ax fell “will be paid for the balance of the week,” the company stated, according to the Victorville, California, Daily Press.
Truckers were told “immediately return equipment, inventory and delivery documents for those deliveries that have been completed to one of the following locations: Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Verona, Mississippi; or Victorville, California.”
Workers were stunned at the development just before Thanksgiving.
“That puts a damper on everybody’s spirits, especially when you’re told to be ready to hit it hard Monday. Every one of us is dedicated to the company. We consider each other to be family members,” TJ Martin of Mississippi said, according to WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi.
“This has been a drastic shock to every one of us,” Martin said.
In a WLBT interview, longtime employee Jeff Jones described the impact of the mass layoffs.
“When I’m out of a day job, I’m out of insurance. Been with the company for 30 years, 10 years from retirement. I’m looking to make a change,” Jones said.
“You can look at this as devastating news or an opportunity. I’m sure a lot of people will look at this as an opportunity to reinvent themselves.”
Toria Neal of Lee County, Mississippi, did more than complain. She filed a proposed class-action suit saying the company violated the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires a 60-day notice of layoffs, according to Freightwaves.com, a media company that focuses on transportation issues.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Neal, 36, told the New York Post in a telephone interview.
“The text said we were all being terminated and all our benefits, including our health insurance, were being terminated effective immediately. I had a really bad breakdown right there on the spot. I thought, what am I going to do?” said Neal, who has four children under the age of 21, according to the Post.
“I couldn’t sleep after I got the text,” she said. “It tore me apart. It felt like such a betrayal. Not just of me but of all of us. I worry about the older employees there who take medication every day and won’t be able to afford it after today without health insurance.”
Neal called the closing “so hard and so emotional. I have family members who work there as well. I still find it difficult to talk about without breaking down.”
“We all left Monday saying, see y’all tomorrow not knowing we might not see some people ever again,” Neal said. “We still have personal stuff in there but it’s all locked up right now. We had no inkling anything like this was going to happen, either.”
Laid off employees would be able to return for their belongings as soon as it could be coordinated with property managers, the company said in a follow-up email, according to Freightwaves.
“As soon as the property manager can provide a safe and orderly process for former employees to come and gather their belongings, they will do so,” the email stated, according to FreightWaves. “We are not certain of the timeframe for this but will communicate proactively.”
The company had been having trouble. In July, 270 people lost their jobs when plants in Winston-Salem and High Point, North Carolina were closed. A month later, the ax fell on 220 workers in Amory, Mississippi.
Langston & Lott, a law firm based in Booneville, Mississippi, filed the first lawsuit related to the mass layoffs on Tuesday charging the action violated a federal law known as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.
“Under the WARN Act, the employees of United Furniture were entitled to either a 60-day notice or 60 days of severance pay — neither of those were provided,” said Jack Simpson, attorney for Langston & Lott, according to Freightwaves.
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