TWIN COUNTY SUED BY EX-EMPLOYEES

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Former employees of Twin County Grocers, Edison, N.J., have filed suit in Superior Court here seeking a jury trial to recover lost wages and benefits.for bankruptcy amid charges that Martin Vitale, its former chairman, along with other former officials, had embezzled approximately $12.7 million between 1993 and 1997.The company subsequently discontinued operations and is in

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Former employees of Twin County Grocers, Edison, N.J., have filed suit in Superior Court here seeking a jury trial to recover lost wages and benefits.

for bankruptcy amid charges that Martin Vitale, its former chairman, along with other former officials, had embezzled approximately $12.7 million between 1993 and 1997.

The company subsequently discontinued operations and is in the process of liquidating its assets.

Twin County was a cooperative with approximately 30 members operating about 125 supermarkets that traded under the names Foodtown and D'Agostino Supermarkets in New Jersey and New York and Grande stores in Puerto Rico, with annual sales of approximately $1 billion. Vitale served as chairman from 1989 until his resignation in 1997.

The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Vitale, Teamsters Union Local 863 and unnamed "officers, officials, employees and members" of the company and the union.

Vitale's attorney and union officials could not be reached last week for comment on the allegations.

Ronald Spevack, attorney for the plaintiffs, told SN last week the case is unlikely to be heard for some time, pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit against Vitale and the conclusion of Twin County's bankruptcy proceedings. However, he said, the employees had to file suit before the statute of limitations against the union expires.

According to the employee lawsuit, Twin County and Local 863 violated federal racketeering laws by committing conspiratorial acts in which "goods, services, monies, things of value and consideration were given ... to officials, members, employees [and] officers of the defendant union ... to obtain favorable contract terms for [Twin County and] to obtain consent and givebacks, reduce benefits [and] reduce salaries in the collective bargaining contract" between the union and Twin County warehouse employees.

"As a result of the conspiratorial acts and pattern of racketeering, the contract ... reduced salaries, eliminated and lowered benefits, lessened compensation and other matters [and] was less favorable to the plaintiffs, who suffered less favorable and inferior working conditions."

Members of Twin County's board of directors also filed suit against Vitale earlier this year to recoup their losses.