United for Respect
For Immediate Release: March 10, 2021
Former Art Van Employees Push Wall Street Private Equity Firm
Thomas H. Lee Partners to Double Hardship Relief Fund to $2 Million
A Victory in the Battle of Working People vs. Wall Street Builds Momentum
for Aggressive Severance Protections, Stop Wall Street Looting Act
Detroit/Boston — Thomas H. Lee Partners (“THL”) has capitulated to pressure after one year of relentless campaigning by Art Van workers whose jobs were destroyed by the Wall Street private equity giant. THL will add nearly $1 million to a hardship relief fund, for a total of $2 million in relief that Art Van employees fought for and won. As reported by Bloomberg, all eligible employees who have signed up to receive relief will receive $1,200 each, in total.
“When we fight, we win. From day one, we set out to hold THL accountable and we let the private equity firm know that they needed to provide meaningful relief to the thousands of our workers whose jobs were destroyed when THL-controlled Art Van Furniture filed for bankruptcy. This week, THL told us that they were going to double their contribution to former Art Van employees with an additional contribution of almost one million to the Art Van Hardship Relief Fund. This will allow many of us to pay for out of pocket medical costs or even make a car payment or contribute to our mortgage,” said Joey Tallmadge, a former Warehouse Repair Technician at Art Van who was with the company for about 15 years. “This is an important win, and shows what can happen when we come together and take on Wall Street. We’re just getting started. Private Equity companies must be stopped before they loot again, and we intend to stop them.”
While the $1,200 amount falls far short of a fair severance for workers who gave decades to the successful company, it will make a difference in the lives of employees who were left with nothing after THL-controlled Art Van was liquidated last year. The offering of cash comes only after an extensive grassroots pressure campaign led by these former workers, with the support of the nonprofit grassroots labor rights advocacy group United for Respect.
According to a study by Americans for Financial Reform, Center for Popular Democracy, and United for Respect, “Private equity-owned retailers cut over half a million jobs before the pandemic, disproportionately impacting women and people of color. Additionally, over half of retail bankruptcies have occurred in firms owned by private equity.” United for Respect has been standing with thousands of retail workers since 2017 to demand relief funds and severance from billionaire Wall Street firms who have left workers at retailers like Toys ‘R’ Us, Shopko, and Art Van with nothing — after pocketing millions. As the movement advances, there is increasing momentum to rewrite the rules so that Wall Street can no longer profit from buying retailers, loading them with debt, extracting all of the value, and then declaring bankruptcy, destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs in their wake.
“When THL shuttered Art Van’s doors last year, we were left without health insurance, a paycheck, and severance pay in the middle of a global pandemic. We want to make sure this never happens again,” said Shirley Smith, a former Sales Manager at Art Van who was with the company for 23 years. “Our elected officials can help reign in private equity plundering by passing policies that protect workers in the event of a bankruptcy or during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to hold predatory Wall Street firms accountable for the damage and harm they’re inflicting on working people, companies, and our communities. That’s why we need a national standard by passing the Stop Wall Street Looting Act, and making sure that people get what they are owed in severance by passing guaranteed severance legislation in Michigan.”
Michigan State Representative Abdullah Hammoud (District 15), who has several former Art Van employees in his district, sponsored a severance bill (HB 5035) in October 2019 that would have mandated Michigan employers pay laid-off workers a guaranteed severance which would have resulted in a much higher amount of compensation for former employees than the $1,200 relief offered by THL today. Rep. Hammoud is aiming to reintroduce the bill this spring. THL-controlled Art Van’s first federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (“WARN”) Act notice cited financial malfeasance, which requires a 60-day notice to employees of the store’s closure. Art Van then amended the filing, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for immediate business closure, and as a result, Art Van workers did not receive the 60 day notice they expected. This discrepancy is the subject of pending litigation by former Art Van employees.
About United For Respect:
United for Respect (UFR) is a national non-profit organization. UFR is a multiracial movement of working people throughout the U.S. advancing a vision of an economy where our work is respected and our humanity recognized. UFR is not a labor union and does not intend or seek to represent retail employees over terms and conditions of employment or to bargain with retail employers.