Senior Climate Researcher/ Campaigner Research/ Campaign Coordinator – Climate Senior Climate Researcher/ Campaigner The Private Equity Stakeholder Project is a nonprofit financial watchdog organization that researches and reports on private equity investments and their impacts on people and the planet, working with communities and other stakeholders to bring about change.
Shirley Smith, who lives in Michigan and worked at Art Van Furniture for 23 years: “Art Van was a family-owned furniture company. It was a great place to work, with great benefits, and offered financial stability. I was a single mom that purchased and paid for my home and built a nest egg for my future. TH Lee, a Private Equity Fund, purchased us in 2017 and snatched that future away.”
In 2020, Art Van filed for bankruptcy and laid off 3,100 employees in Michigan. After working there for more than two decades, Shirley was abruptly laid off with no severance.
Along with other workers demanding severance from Art Van owner TH Lee, Shirley spoke to public pensions in California, New York, and Pennsylvania that invested in the profitable private equity firm. After months of increasing public pressure and launching a successful petition, TH Lee first created a hardship fund of $1.1 million. Workers demanded more, winning an additional $1 million in the fund: “this is a bittersweet victory for us, as it falls far short of the fair severance each of us deserves… we didn’t know what would happen, but we did know that if we remained silent, they would have walked away without giving us a dime.” Now, Shirley is an organizer with United for Respect, and is supporting guaranteed severance legislation in Michigan and the federal Stop Wall Street Looting Act.
I was a single mom that purchased and paid for my home and built a nest egg for my future. TH Lee, a Private Equity Fund, purchased us in 2017 and snatched that future away.