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Mississippi mom-of-four, 36, says she's been 'torn apart' and had a 'really bad breakdown' after furniture manufacturer fired her and 2,700 workers by email and text as they slept

Daily Mail
Daily Mail
 2022-11-26

A mom-of-four at a Mississippi furniture firm that laid off 2,700 people via text and email has condemned the bosses and said she has been 'torn apart' by the move.

A staggering 2,700 workers - most of whom live in northeast Mississippi, with others in North Carolina and California - lost their jobs in the early hours of Tuesday.

The digital announcement, via text message and email, was made overnight, while many were sleeping.

Toria Neal, 36, a former traffic controller for United, said she 'couldn't believe my eyes' when she read the message after midnight Tuesday.

Neal added: '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?'

Her four children are all under the age of 21 and she says money is tight and there are bills to pay.

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Toria Neal (pictured center), a worker at the Mississippi-based furniture company that laid off 2,700 people over one night via text is speaking out, condemning the bosses and saying she's been 'torn apart' by the move
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Neal, a 36-year-old mother of four and former traffic controller for United, said she 'couldn't believe my eyes' when she read the message she and her co-workers received after midnight Tuesday

'It tore me apart,' she told the New York Post. '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, who had worked at United since 2015, called going through Thanksgiving after the layoffs '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.'

She added that many employees still have personal affects locked up in the building where they worked. 'We had no inkling anything like this was going to happen, either.'

The inexplicable firings have set off several lawsuits based on the WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act, which forces companies with more than 100 employees to give 60 days advance to all employees who are being laid off.

Casey Lott, an attorney representing Neal, said what United did is illegal: 'It doesn't make a lot of sense.'

He said that one of his clients was fired while still working on behalf of the company that evening and had trucks ready to make deliveries the same day.

Shortly after the heartbreaking announcement, one driver who was out on a delivery was arrested by cops in Mississippi and accused of attempting to remove furniture from his truck. He hasn't been identified, and no further details have been shared.

United Furniture Industries sent a memo via email and text to workers late Monday night informing them not to report to their shifts Tuesday. The layoffs come as economic experts predict a recession to hit in 2023.

The memo said the layoffs were made at the '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 memo did not offer any specific details about what led to the layoffs, merely referring to it as a 'difficult and unexpected situation.' Furniture Today, a trade publication, reported that United fired its chief executive, replacing him with current CEO Todd Evans.

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The memo did not offer any specific details about what led to the layoffs, merely referring to it as a 'difficult and unexpected situation.' Furniture Today, a trade publication, reported that United fired its chief executive, replacing him with current CEO Todd Evans (pictured)
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The company's chief financial officer and executive vice president of sales in June were also let go. Evans was the former president of Standard Furniture, an Alabama-based company. He's worked in the furniture industry since 1999.

A second email informed workers their 'layoff from the company is expected to be permanent and all benefits will be terminated immediately without provision of COBRA,' referring to the federal law that gives people who lose their jobs an option to keep their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage under some circumstances.

Some employees were sound asleep when the emails hit their inboxes. Others never saw the emails before heading to work.

Company drivers who were out making deliveries were told to return to a United Furniture location immediately to turn in their trucks, most were told that they would be paid through the end of the week.

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Approximately 2,700 workers, most of whom live in northeast Mississippi, with others in North Carolina and California, lost their jobs Monday

The Daily Press reports that a United Furniture Industries driver was arrested in Monroe County, Mississippi, for allegedly attempting to remove furniture from his truck.

Audrey Garth, 37, is facing charges of grand larceny. Authorities say that they recovered furniture from a nearby parking lot in relation to the arrest.

An attorney representing Neal, Jack Simpson, told Freight Waves: '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.'

Simpson added: 'If appointed class counsel, we look forward to vigorously investigating the actions of United Furniture and seeking as much compensation the terminated employees are legally entitled to.'

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United had become one of the largest furniture businesses in the country. The Northwest Mississippi Daily Journal reports that its competitor Ashley Furniture has now begun recruiting former United employees
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United Furniture Industries workers. Some employees were sound asleep when the emails hit their inboxes. Others never saw the emails before heading to work

While another former employee told Freight Waves: 'We would go over to our friends' houses and say, 'Hey, that chair or that piece of furniture was made at our plant.' We really took pride in our work — and this is how we are treated.'

In a separate interview, a former employee of the company's California operation, told VVNG: 'I don't think any of us are prepared for this, especially right before the holidays. It will definitely affect my family and my immediate plans, and I don't know who to turn to or what to do now.'

The Northwest Mississippi Daily Journal reports that Ashley Furniture has begun recruiting former United employees.

Lee County Administrator Bill Benson told the newspaper that the local community was caught off guard by the layoffs. Benson said: 'I know the board is ready to do anything it can to assist in the efforts of placing these folks.'

While in neighboring Monroe County, the Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chelsea Baulch said: 'We're heartbroken and in prayers for all of those affected. We're working and partnering with our economic development friends at CDF, Three Rivers, the WIN Job Center and Accelerate MS to help deploy as many resources and available information on jobs and the rapid response.'

The company's communications team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Furniture companies that saw record sales during the pandemic have suffered since the return to normalcy. United laid off 490 employees in July before firing its top executives, followed by a majority of its workforce

Experts speculated that the company's demise could be tied to issues such as inflation, the ongoing situation in Ukraine and high gas prices, according to the Daily Press.

A former United consultant in the company's North Carolina operation, Robert Cottam, told Greensboro.com: 'Many furniture manufacturers were having gangbuster sales in 2021 with the pandemic. But, when those inflationary factors hit hard, it really put a squeeze on the discretionary spending of those who purchase promotional furniture.'

United Furniture Industries, based in Okolona, Miss., makes furniture under its brand and the Lane Home Furnishings brand, which it acquired in 2017 from Heritage Home Group LLC for an undisclosed sum. Lane was founded in 1912 in Virginia and merged with Tupelo-based Action Industries in 1972.

In addition to eight plants in Mississippi, United also had six plants in North Carolina and one in California. Layoffs took place at the North Carolina and California locations as well.

In July, the company laid off 490 employees.

The full firing messages received by United Furniture Workers

This first message was sent on Monday night:

'We ask that all employees not report to their work locations tomorrow November 22, 2022.

Over-the-road drivers, whether or not you have completed your delivery, please immediately return the equipment, inventory, and delivery documents for those deliveries that have been completed to one of the following locations: Winston-Salem, NC, Verona, MS, or Victorville, CA.

To be clear, do not complete any additional deliveries. Additional information will be provided tomorrow morning. Please be patient and we will proactively communicate when additional information is available.'

A second message went out to workers on Tuesday morning:

'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.

Your layoff from the Company is expected to be permanent and all benefits will be terminated immediately without the provision of COBRA.

Over-the-road drivers that are out on delivery will be paid for the balance of the week. Whether or not you have completed your delivery, please immediately return the equipment, inventory, and delivery documents for those deliveries that have been completed to one of the following locations: Winston-Salem, NC, Verona, MS, or Victorville, CA location.

To be clear, do not complete any additional deliveries. We regret that this difficult and unexpected situation has made this necessary. Additional information will be provided shortly. Thank you for your service and dedication.'

Comments / 58

phyliss_wright
11-27

It happened to me and my co workers in September. They gave us a 2 wk notice after they came back from a lovely vacation in the DR. They had outsourced our jobs and gave us a book of stamps as severance and a going away supper to celebrate our demise. How low is that?

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steve austin
11-27

luckily the law states the company has to give 60 days notice. now they'll have to hire a lawyer and get their severance pay .

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11
Levhay80
11-27

I believe jobs/employers should also have to give a 2week notice…they want everyone else to do it

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9

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