Days before Thanksgiving, a Mississippi-based furniture company laid off 2,700 workers across the country—via text and email—while many of them were sleeping.
United Furniture Industries sacked nearly its entire workforce in the state, as well as employees in North Carolina and California, and in a heartless parting blow, discontinued the employees’ health care benefits, according to reports. After the mass layoffs, one company driver was arrested for allegedly stealing furniture and a truck.
Now the firm is facing at least three federal lawsuits in the Northern District of Mississippi. Toria Neal, who has worked for the company since July 2014, filed a class-action suit this week alleging United fired all employees except for “over-the-road drivers” just before midnight on Nov. 21 in violation of federal law. She argues United didn’t give workers a required 60-day advance written notice. (Two other employees, Frances Alomari and Willie Poe, filed lawsuits making the same allegations against the company.)
The abrupt firings were a punch to the gut for longtime employees of United Furniture, which operates under the Lane Furniture brand.
Jimmy Herring, 24, told The Daily Beast that he was promoted to floor supervisor at a Lane plant in Trinity, North Carolina, a week or two before his termination. Herring said that before he and his colleagues were let go, they were making recliners for Lowe’s retail stores.
But at 11:56 p.m. on Monday, the firm sent him a text message while he was asleep. He wouldn’t see the digital pink slip until a day or two later.
Instead, his boss texted him the next morning, without providing many details, and announced they didn’t have work. At first, Herring assumed they were getting a day off because of the upcoming holiday. Then he contacted his co-workers.
“They said we had all been terminated,” said Herring, who was with the company for six years. “I thought it was a joke or something.”
He said his reaction was one of “complete panic.”
“I didn’t know what to do, where to start,” said Herring, whose girlfriend, Chey, is expecting a baby on Dec. 8. Instead of shelling out for Thanksgiving dinner, the couple scrambled to buy supplies for their future child including a baby bath.
Herring is unsure if last Friday’s paycheck from Lane will be his last.
“Some people don’t even have cell phones,” Herring added of co-workers. “They had to go to the plant and find out they don’t have a job anymore.”
Multiple employees and their relatives took to Facebook to fume over the dismissals.
“Pathetic!! My brother who is 64 years old was sent a text to say you no longer have a job!” one North Carolina resident wrote. “I hope these ppl have to endure the same treatment my brother and the rest of these employees will have to face now, especially being the start of the holidays!!!”
“Fantastic business ethics United/Lane,” wrote TJ Martin, an employee of a Tupelo, Mississippi plant who also spoke to local news station WLBT. “We appreciate the termination news while on vacation and at 11:30pm at night.”
“I have spoken with numerous co-workers,” Martin added, “and we all completely feel let down by a company we have dedicated our time and energy to for years and loved doing so in order to provide for our families.”
Trade publication Furniture Today published United’s message to staff.
“At the instruction of the Board of Directors of United Furniture Industries, Inc., and all subsidiaries (the “Company”), 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 November 21, 2022, with the exception of over-the-road drivers that are out on delivery,” the firing notice stated. “Your layoff from the Company is expected to be permanent and all benefits will be terminated immediately without provision of COBRA.”
“We regret that this difficult and unexpected situation has made this necessary,” United continued, adding: “Thank you for your service and dedication.”
Last summer, the company fired its CEO, CFO and executive vice president of sales and laid off 300 employees, Furniture Today revealed. The firm then named Todd Evans as its new CEO. “Our industry is experiencing a drastic decrease in consumer demand,” Evans said in July. “Our inventory levels remain high and new orders from our customers remain slow.”
United Furniture Industries has yet to comment on the firings.
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