The owner of United Furniture Industries – who last week fired 2,700 workers by text and email while they slept – disappeared after arguing with the company’s board and bankers over whether to file for bankruptcy, The Post has learned.
David Belford, a wealthy businessman from Ohio, has remained a mum since the layoffs of his entire workforce in Mississippi, North Carolina and California in the days before Thanksgiving – despite the efforts of lenders and lawyers representing the workers laid off to reach the UFI, according to several sources.
“No one has heard from the owner. He’s not returning anyone’s phone calls. It’s such an awful situation,” a source with knowledge of the situation told The Post.
The Post made several attempts to contact Belford. An attorney representing hundreds of laid off employees in Mississippi, Philip Hearn, said rumors were circulating among former employees that Belford flew to Paris after the layoffs.
The Tupelo, Mississippi-based company’s board of directors held an emergency meeting Nov. 20 and made the decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. But the next day, Belford canceled the plan, according to Hearn, who represents more than 600 UFI employees in Mississippi, including many senior executives.
“Belford said ‘We’re not moving forward with a Chapter 11,'” according to Hearn. “It looks like the management team came up with a plan to save the company and Belford said, ‘It’s over, I’m not doing it.'”
UFI workers received frantic emails and text messages in their sleep on November 21 telling them not to come to work the next day because their jobs had been cut with immediate effect along with their healthcare benefits.
Belford’s silence has left UFI’s lenders and a handful of people close to the company scrambling over what to do with its abandoned assets, leases and employees, sources told the Post.
Despite the company’s dire situation, it has not filed for bankruptcy or liquidation. Belford is the only person with the authority to make legal decisions, a source with knowledge of the situation told The Post.
“He irresponsibly closed his business without notice to anyone,” the source said. “And he has the wherewithal to do it the right way.”
Officially, the UFI blamed “unforeseen business circumstances” for the layoffs, but privately Belford points the finger at the company’s lenders, including Wells Fargo, Hearn claimed.
Wells Fargo told the Post it had no idea of Belford’s decision.
“Wells Fargo was saddened to learn of the abrupt closure of United Furniture Industries, Inc. and its affiliates (“UFI”),” the bank said in a statement to the Post. “Once informed of the business owner’s decision, we immediately reached out to UFI’s senior management to address the consequences of the business owner’s actions and support its employees.”
UFI was deeply in debt and needed additional capital, sources told The Post.
Belford, who lives in the affluent Columbus suburb of Gahanna, owns several other companies, including Solstice Sleep Products and an investment firm called Stage Capital.
He has donated millions to charities and nonprofits largely through the Belford Family Charitable Fund. Among his largesse was a $10 million donation to establish a spinal cord injury research center at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
Former employees argue there was no record of UFI’s financial struggles despite a management shakeup over the summer in which the CEO, CFO and executive vice president of sales at UFI were made redundant and some 500 employees were made redundant.
But the UFI continued to add new employees to its ranks, including some whose first and last day was Nov. 21, according to labor attorney Jack Raisner, who is representing former California employees in a class action lawsuit. proposed alleging that the UFI violated federal law by failing to give workers 60 days notice by issuing so-called WARN notices.
Belford was personally responsible for firing UFI’s ‘longtime CEO and CFO in 2022 [replacing them] with people who had previously held low-level leadership positions,” according to the California complaint.
The WARN notices finally reached employees on November 28 and 29, reiterating what they already knew – that their jobs, health benefits and pay ended immediately on November 21.
“Many people have genuine concerns about their lack of medical coverage and some had scheduled procedures “that they can’t afford right now,” said William “Jack” Simpson, a Mississippi attorney who filed a bill. class-action lawsuit — one of at least four such complaints — on behalf of terminated employees.
A laid-off human resources worker, Bill Burke – who was hired three weeks before the mass layoffs – continues to answer frantic workers’ questions about how to get new health insurance. UFI had given him a company cell phone which was not disconnected.
“I answer from home,” Burke told the Post. “My future is as uncertain as anyone else’s.”
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