Days before Thanksgiving, a Mississippi-based furniture company laid off 2,700 workers across the country — via text and email — while many of them slept.
United Furniture Industries has laid off nearly all of its workforce in the state, as well as employees in North Carolina and California, and in a blow, cut employee health care benefits, according to reports. After the mass layoffs, a company driver was arrested for allegedly stealing furniture and a truck.
Now the company 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 lawsuit this week alleging United fired all employees except “truck drivers” just before midnight Nov. 21 in violation of federal law. She argues that United failed to give workers 60 days written notice. (Two other employees, Frances Alomari and Willie Poe, filed lawsuits making the same allegations against the company.)
The abrupt layoffs were a punch in the gut for longtime employees at United Furniture, which operates under the Lane Furniture brand.
Jimmy Herring, 24, told The Daily Beast he was promoted to floor supervisor at a Lane factory in Trinity, North Carolina, a week or two before he was fired. Herring said that before he and his colleagues were laid off, they made recliners for Lowe’s retail stores.
But at 11:56 p.m. Monday, the firm texted him while he was asleep. He wouldn’t see the digital pink slip until a day or two later.
Instead, her boss texted her the next morning, without providing many details, and said they had no work. At first, Herring assumed they had the day off because of the upcoming vacation. He then contacted his colleagues.
“They said we were all fired,” said Herring, who had been with the company for six years. “I thought it was a joke or something.”
He said his reaction was “total 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 rushed to buy supplies for their future child. including a baby bath.
Herring isn’t sure if Lane’s last Friday paycheck will be his last.
“Some people don’t even have cellphones,” Herring added of his colleagues. “They must have gone to the factory and found they had no more work.”
Several employees and their relatives took to Facebook to rail against the layoffs.
“Pathetic!! My 64-year-old brother got a text to say you’re out of work! wrote one North Carolina resident. “I hope these people have to endure the same treatment that my brother and the rest of these employees have to endure now, especially at the start of the holidays!!!”
“A fantastic United/Lane business ethic,” wrote TJ Martin, a factory worker in Tupelo, Mississippi, who also spoke to local news station WLBT. “We appreciate termination news during the holidays and at 11:30 p.m. in the evening.”
“I’ve spoken with many colleagues,” added Martin, “and we all feel completely let down by a company that we’ve dedicated our time and energy to for years and enjoy doing to support our families.”
Commercial publication Furniture today published United’s message to staff.
“At the direction 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 of its employees, effective immediately, on November 21, 2022, with the exception of truck drivers who are on delivery,” the termination notice reads. “Your termination from the company should be permanent and all benefits will terminate 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 laid off its CEO, CFO and executive vice president of sales and laid off 300 employees, Furniture today revealed. The company then named Todd Evans as its new CEO. “Our industry is seeing a drastic drop 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 layoffs.
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