Finance

Owner of United Furniture is branded a ‘Scrooge’ as he resurfaces after firm suddenly shuttered

Owner of United Furniture is branded a ‘Scrooge’ as he resurfaces after firm suddenly shuttered
Written by MAGASIR

The owner of United Furniture, which laid off thousands of employees while they slept in late November, has resurfaced and is claiming he didn’t know the extent his business was failing.

David Belford went weeks without being heard from after the announcement of the layoffs and subsequent backlash just before midnight on November 21.

He spoke in mid-December to a trade publication where he said: ‘My insight into the company’s finances was limited.’

Belford called himself a ‘passive investor’ into United Furniture and said that ‘only very recently’ did he learn how bad things were and says he’s not to blame for the meltdown.

Regardless of Belford’s excuses, UFI employees are suing the company. Attorney Philip Hearn, representing the disgruntled employees, asked: ‘Who looks like a bigger Scrooge than this guy?’

David Belford, the owner of United Furniture, which laid off thousands of employees while they slept in late November, has resurfaced and is claiming he didn't know the extent his business was failing

David Belford, the owner of United Furniture, which laid off thousands of employees while they slept in late November, has resurfaced and is claiming he didn’t know the extent his business was failing

Belford is still chairman of the board of UFI and has taken a key role in active litigation, according to the New York Post. He tried to pass off the blame, saying, ‘Unfortunately, the reality of UFI’s circumstances was brought to the board’s attention far too late.’

An HR exec has guaranteed employees they would receive W2 statements. Hearn said Belford only rehired those HR execs ‘to save face because he was getting hammered.’

Belford did not comment on the rumors that he jetted off to Paris in the wake of the announcement.

His absence left UFI’s lenders scrambling to work out what to do with the business’ assets, buildings, and furious employees. Belford is the only one who can call the shots or make legal decisions, a source told the Post.

‘He irresponsibly shut down his company without advance notice to anyone,’ the source said. ‘And he has the means to do this the right way.’

David Belford went weeks without being heard from after the announcement of the layoffs and subsequent backlash just before midnight on November 21

David Belford went weeks without being heard from after the announcement of the layoffs and subsequent backlash just before midnight on November 21

Belford called himself a 'passive investor' into United Furniture and said that 'only very recently' did he learn how bad things were and says he's not to blame for the meltdown

Belford called himself a ‘passive investor’ into United Furniture and said that ‘only very recently’ did he learn how bad things were and says he’s not to blame for the meltdown

Belford, however, is still chairman of the board of UFI and has taken a key role in active litigation, according to the New York Post . An HR exec has guaranteed employees they would receive W2 statements

Belford, however, is still chairman of the board of UFI and has taken a key role in active litigation, according to the New York Post . An HR exec has guaranteed employees they would receive W2 statements

DailyMail.com has attempted to contact Belford and his family several times but did not hear back.

A staggering 2,700 workers – most of whom live in northeast Mississippi, with others in North Carolina and California – lost their jobs at United Furniture Industries overnight in late November.

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.

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

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, effectively immediately, on November 21,’ it read in part.

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 .

Todd Evans, CEO of United Furnishing Industries

Pictured: The message sent to sacked workers

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)

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.

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.

Employees claim there was no hint that the company was struggling financially prior to the layoffs, despite a management shake up in the summer.

United Furniture continued to hired staff up until November 21 – when the immediate layoff began, with some workers even expected to start that day, according to Attorney Jack Raisner, who is representing California workers.

In addition, their health insurance was immediately cut off, leaving ‘a lot of people’ with growing ‘concerns.’ Some employees had scheduled procedures that can no longer take place, as they cannot foot the bill without insurance, Mississippi Attorney William ‘Jack ’ Simpson told the Post.

Philip Hearn said he heard the rumors that Belford flew to Paris and said the former boss has not had any contact with employees.

William 'Jack' Simpson also said Belford violated the WARN Act, which requires employees to be given a 60-day notice

Philip Hearn (left) and William ‘Jack’ Simpson are representing various Mississippi employees in two different lawsuits. Hearn said he heard the rumors that Belford flew to Paris and said the former boss has not had any contact with employees. Simpson also said Belford violated the WARN Act, which requires employees to be given a 60-day notice

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, effectively immediately, on November 21,' it read in part

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, effectively immediately, on November 21,’ it read in part

Simpson said employees were informed of the firing before receiving a WARN notice. The WARN Act entitles employees to either a 60-day notice or 60 days of severity pay – neither of there have been provided.

‘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,’ Simpson said previously.

A former HR worker, Bill Burke, told the Post he is still fielding phone calls from desperate employees about how to get new healthcare insurance, despite the fact that his ‘future is just as uncertain as everyone else’s.’

His work cell phone, 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 struggles, Belford has reportedly continued to donate to millions to charities, including a $10million gift to The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center for spinal cord research.

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, effectively 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.’

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