Thomas H. Lee Partners, LP left 3,100 Art Van employees without a job and health insurance amid global coronavirus pandemic; Employees are demanding at least $1,500 per employee in hardship fund

MICHIGAN — Monday, former Art Van employees sent a letter to Thomas H. Lee Partners, LP (THL) calling on them to contribute at least $1,500 to each former Art Van employee to help ensure that they can protect their own health and their families’ health during this pandemic and financial crisis. As reported by Bloomberg, a committee of former Art Van employees have been in dialogue with THL executives after their stores were abruptly closed, leaving 3,100 employees without a job, health insurance, or severance pay amid the coronavirus pandemic.


On April 21, former Art Van employees first sent a letter to THL executives demanding they continue to pay for medical expenses after their jobs were terminated amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. The letter prompted discussions between the former employees and THL executives. Last month, after ongoing demands from former Art Van employees, THL executives offered a one-time check of $320-$400 per employee.


“When Art Van went under not only was I affected but my whole family, too,” said 56-year-old Melody Crawford who was an Assistant Buyer at Art Van for 13 years. “I was the breadwinner for my family and now I can’t even find a job. THL left me without an income to make ends meet and afford my medications and it’s a slap to the face that they want to offer us pennies after taking everything from us. As one of the largest private equity firms in the world, they can and should do better.”

THL’s website notes that the firm’s principals have personally invested $335 million of their own capital in THL’s newest funds and THL has raised over $26 billion in equity capital.


The decision to close Art Van and lay off employees is, unfortunately, an all too familiar tactic. In 2009, Simmons Mattress, owned by THL, filed for bankruptcy while the private equity firm banked $77 million in profit as the mattress company declined.


“Wall Street executives don’t care about the damages they cause to working people like us,” said Shirley Smith who was a Sales Manager and had worked at Art Van for 23 years. “I had to go weeks without my prescriptions because I lost my health insurance before the end of March. Now, I pay ten times more with marketplace insurance. It’s been a nightmare and I’m hoping to wake up from. THL needs to be held accountable for their horrible decisions and provide us some relief as we try to make ends meet.”


At the time of closing, Art Van used COVID-19 as an excuse to abruptly close down the company and leave thousands without a job, unpaid commissions, and health insurance. According to bankruptcy filings, THL did not go through with a plan to continue funding Art Van in late February, based, in part, on coronavirus. THL followed a familiar playbook, one we’ve also seen with Toys R UsSears, and Shopko: financial extraction and wealth accumulation for a few, while leaving working families with nothing.


Art Van closures continue to devastate communities and working families in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Ohio, where 81 stores were located throughout.


You can find a copy of the letter sent to THL, here: Letter to THL from former Art Van employees