Former United Furniture Industries employee talks about life after Lane

T J Martin regularly checks in with his former co-workers and is looking for a new career

TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – Wells Fargo and two suppliers for United Furniture are asking a court to force the company into Chapter Seven bankruptcy.

That is the latest development since the company, which also owns Lane Furniture, abruptly closed, firing all employees the week of Thanksgiving.

Now, nearly two months later, WCBI checked in with a former employee of the Belden plant to see how everything is going.

The last time we spoke on camera with TJ Martin was the day after United Furniture Industries sent notices to all employees that it was closing and they no longer had jobs, or benefits.

Martin, and his former co-workers at the Belden Lane plant, were in shock. In the weeks that have followed, he has focused on looking for work to support his daughter.

“When you’re put in a situation like that people don’t know how to react off the bat, there’s still a lot of my fellow past co-workers I’ve spoken with, they’re still struggling. The system, with all the people unemployed, was basically overloaded, a lot of jobs are looking at applications, a lot of people are still waiting on that call,” Martin said.

Martin worked in furniture for years.

He has been encouraged by how the community has helped the thousands of people in Northeast Mississippi whose jobs were eliminated. The Salvation Army had a special Angel Tree for Lane families, job fairs were organized, along with other outreaches.

“That’s a big help, it helped with a lot of people’s emotions, trying to stay strong,” he said.

Within a day of the mass terminations, lawsuits were filed, claiming United Furniture Industries violated federal law, by not giving employees 60 days advance written notice of termination. That is required of companies with more than 100 employees under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN Act.

Martin was part of one of those lawsuits filed by Attorney Philip Hearn.

And while Martin said he loved working at Lane, he is finished with the furniture industry.

“I’m going to take the opportunity to find another occupation, there are a lot of possibilities, I’m open to all kinds of suggestions, I would like to find something else that I love,” Martin said.

As the lawsuits and other legal issues involving United Furniture Industries make their way through the courts, Martin said he will stay in touch with his former co-workers, whom he described as his second family. He said while it’s an uncertain time for him and many others, it is also a time of new beginnings.

Several weeks after they were all terminated, former Lane employees were finally allowed to go inside the furniture plants to get their personal belongings.

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