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KEENE, N.H. -- Four employees yesterday filed a nationwide class action against C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., based here, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claiming that the second-largest wholesale grocery store supplier in the United States "routinely cheats thousands of its piece-rate warehouse workers out of millions of dollars a week in wages," according to a statement from the law firm representing the plaintiffs.
In a statement supplied to Progressive Grocer, C&S s.v.p. Carl Wistreich said:
"The...class action...filed against C&S...is without merit and C&S rejects the allegations in their entirety. As a starting point, it should be recognized that this lawsuit was commenced by four individuals -- one current employee and three former employees -- two of whom left the company in 2002 and one that left the company in 2004. It is simply the case that the C&S team structure does not in any way violate any law or regulation. C&S is very proud of its self-managed teams, which are the cornerstone of creating an empowered and engaged workforce...Unlike the plaintiffs, who desire to try this case through the press, C&S will instead vigorously defend this lawsuit through our court system. The company is confident that it will be completely vindicated on all counts."
The four employees, Armando Hernandez, Michael Wands, Michael Rodrigues, and Joseph Alvarez, are seeking $750 million in unpaid wages and overtime under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state labor laws in each of the 14 states where the company has warehouses, including the 500,000-square-foot Newburgh, N.Y. facility where the plaintiffs worked. The case applies to employees who have worked at C&S since 2000.
According to the suit, C&S violates federal and state laws by reducing employees' wages as punishment for mistakes made on the job, including instances of collective punishment; not paying overtime; not paying for time worked in excess of 10 hours, not paying workers their agreed hourly rates; and encouraging employees to work off the clock and through lunch without pay.
"C&S is punishing its low-income workers at the same time the company is projecting record revenues of $18 billion this year," said co-lead counsel Jeremy Heisler of Sanford, Wittels & Heisler, LLP, the New York law firm representing the plaintiffs, in a statement. "Meanwhile the hard-working employee making those profits possible has little choice but to keep quiet about the company's sweatshop practices or lose his job."
The suit alleges that C&S owes thousands of dollars to each plaintiff as well as to other class members, including the company's warehouse selectors, lift operators, backhaulers, and slot cleaners. Along with back pay and overtime compensation, the class action asks for punitive damages, prejudgment interest, attorney fees, costs, and other restitution.
Additionally, Javier Andrade, a community activist associated with the plaintiffs, noted that C&S' alleged unfair labor practices disproportionately affected African-American and Hispanic employees.
The plaintiffs' attorneys have requested a jury trial.