Tlaib Asks T. H. Lee to Cover Insurance for Art Van Workers

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is calling on private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners to pay the health insurance costs for Art Van Furniture workers who lost coverage after the Midwestern retailer shut down.

Art Van filed for bankruptcy last month and told workers they would have 90 days of coverage as the retailer slowly sold off its stores. As the coronavirus spread, many states forced stores to shut down turning a liquidation into more of a fire sale. The company later told employees they would lose insurance about six weeks earlier than planned.

Workers sent a letter on Tuesday asking Thomas H. Lee Partners, Art Van’s private equity owner, to restore their health coverage. The firm is now planning to meet with workers on Friday, according to former employee David Schwartz, along with representatives from United for Respect, an advocacy group that is working with Art Van’s former employees. The firm declined to comment on the matter.

Tlaib, who represents a district in Michigan that includes parts of Detroit, is the latest politician to call for more help for workers at bankrupt companies.

“This is yet another example of private equity firms destroying companies, while screwing over workers and leaving communities to suffer,” Tlaib said in an emailed statement Wednesday. A representative for Thomas H. Lee declined to comment on Tlaib’s statement beyond noting that the firm lost 100% of its investment in Art Van when the retailer liquidated.

Thomas H. Lee Partners bought Art Van and its real estate in 2017 from founder Art Van Elslander for $612.5 million, according to bankruptcy documents.

Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, was a co-sponsor of the House of Representatives version of the Stop Wall Street Looting Act introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren last year. That bill would put private-equity firms on the hook for the debt of companies they buy and elevate worker claims in bankruptcy.

She is part of “The Squad,” a group of four progressive Democratic freshmen representatives that also includes Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Tlaib’s Michigan district is in a region hit especially hard by the virus, and not far from Art Van’s headquarters in Warren.

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