Rumors have it that the boss of a furniture manufacturer flew to Paris after laying off 2,700 workers while they were still in bed two days before Thanksgiving.
United Furniture Industries owner David Belford, 62, of Gahanna, Ohio — a suburb of Columbus — texted and emailed employees in Mississippi, North Carolina and California on the night to say their services were no longer needed and not come to work.
There have since been reports that he left for Paris despite many claiming that what he did was illegal as he had not given 60 days notice.
“No one has heard from the owner,” said Philip Hearn, a lawyer representing hundreds of laid-off workers New York Post. “He doesn’t answer anyone’s calls. It’s such a terrible situation.’
The company held an emergency meeting on Nov. 20 and decided to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but later retracted the decision, Hearn said.
“It looks like the management team came up with a plan to bail out the company, but Belford said, ‘That’s a wrap up — don’t do it,’ Hearn told the Post.
A furniture manufacturer boss reportedly flew to Paris after firing 2,700 workers while they slept two days before Thanksgiving
His absence has left UFI lenders struggling to figure out what to do with the company’s assets, buildings and irate employees. Belford is the only one in control or able to make legal decisions, a source told the Post.
“He has irresponsibly closed his business without notifying anyone in advance,” the source said. “And he has the resources to do this the right way.”
DailyMail.com made several attempts to contact Belford and his family, but received no immediate response.
A memo, sent late on Nov. 20, told employees, “Under the direction 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 employees. to end. its associates, effective immediately, on November 21.”
The memo did not provide specific details about what led to the layoffs, only calling it a “difficult and unexpected situation.”
A second email informed employees that their “dismissal from the company is expected to be permanent and all benefits will terminate immediately without COBRA,” referring to the federal law that gives people who lose their jobs the opportunity to have their employer-approved sponsored health maintain insurance coverage under certain circumstances.
Company drivers who were making deliveries were told to return immediately to a United Furniture location to return their trucks. Most were told they would be paid until the end of the week.
The Daily Press reports that a United Furniture Industries driver has been arrested in Monroe County, Mississippi, for allegedly attempting to remove furniture from his truck.
Belford fired employees via text (pictured) and email on Nov. 20, telling them not to come in for the Nov. 21 shift
Many workers were asleep when they received the message
Employees claim there was no indication the company was struggling financially prior to the layoffs, despite a management shake-up over the summer.
United Furniture continued to hire staff until Nov. 21 — when the immediate layoffs began, and some workers even expected to start that day, according to attorney Jack Raisner, who represents California workers.
In addition, their health insurance was immediately terminated, leaving ‘many people’ with growing ‘concerns’. Some employees had scheduled procedures that can no longer go ahead because they can’t afford to pay the bill without insurance, Mississippi attorney William “Jack” Simpson told the Post.
Philip Hearn (left) and William “Jack” Simpson represent several Mississippi employees in two different lawsuits. Hearn said he had heard rumors that Belford had flown to Paris and said the former boss has had no contact with employees. Simpson also said Belford violated the WARN law, which requires employees to be given 60 days’ notice
Simpson said employees were notified of the layoff before receiving a WARN message. The WARN Act entitles employees to 60 days’ notice or 60 days’ severance pay – neither of which has been provided.
“Once the class attorney is appointed, we look forward to thoroughly investigating United Furniture’s actions and seeking as much compensation as the dismissed employees are legally entitled to,” Simpson said.
A former HR employee, Bill Burke, told the Post that he still handles calls from desperate employees about how to get new health insurance, despite the fact that his “future is as uncertain as anyone’s.”
His cell phone at work, he said, has yet to be disconnected. However, Belford’s personal cell phone is temporarily out of service, DailyMail.com discovered.
Despite the company’s apparent financial problems, Belford has reportedly continued to donate millions to charitable causes, including a $10 million gift to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center for spinal cord research.
The full layoff notices received by United Furniture Workers
This first message was sent on Monday evening:
We ask all employees not to report to their work location tomorrow, November 22, 2022.
Over-the-road drivers, whether or not you have completed your delivery, please return the equipment, inventory, and delivery documents for those deliveries completed immediately to one of the following locations: Winston-Salem, NC, Verona, MS , or Victorville, CA.
To be clear: do not make any extra deliveries. More information will follow tomorrow morning. Please be patient and we will proactively communicate when additional information becomes available.”
A second message went out to workers on Tuesday morning:
“By order of the Board of Directors of United Furniture Industries, Inc. and all of its 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, excluding drivers that are in transit for delivery.
Your resignation from the Company is expected to be permanent and all benefits will terminate immediately without the provision of COBRA.
Over-the-road drivers on the road on delivery will be paid for the rest of the week. Whether or not you have completed your delivery, immediately return the equipment, inventory, and delivery documents for those deliveries that have been completed to one of the following locations: location in Winston-Salem, NC, Verona, MS, or Victorville, CA.
To be clear: do not make any extra 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.’