Gene Johnson Apr. 28, 2016, 4:45pm


PHILADELPHIA – A wholesale seafood distribution company is suing a union on a claim that the company is no longer a purchaser and distributor of Florida crab meat and, therefore, does not have to contribute to an employee retirement fund.

Empire Crab, Inc. filed a lawsuit March 4 in the U.S. District for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against United Food and Commercial Workers International Union-Industry Pension Fund in an effort to sever contractual ties.

On or about June 30, 2009, Blue Crab Seafood Inc., a purchaser and distributor of Florida crab meat, ceased operating as a growing concern due to financial difficulties, and during its existence was obligated to contribute to the pension fund on behalf of its bargaining unit employees through its collective bargaining agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers, the suit says.

On or about July 16, 2009, Blue Crab – now being called Empire Crab  – began to operate as a wholesale seafood distributor and on or about Aug. 1, 2009, it entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the union and began contributing to a fund on behalf of its bargaining unit employees, according to the suit.

On or about June 23, 2015, according to the lawsuit, the fund issued an assessment of partial withdrawal liability against Empire Crab in the amount of $85,106, with Empire contesting that assessment and requesting a review, according to the complaint.

The fund, according to the lawsuit, believed that Blue Crab and Empire Crab should be treated as a single employer, under the ``single-employer doctrine,’’ under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

According to the lawsuit, Blue Crab and Empire Crab never concurrently engaged in the same business. Blue Crab operated as a wholesale seafood distribution company and Empire Crab operated as a purchaser and distributor of Florida crab meat, the suit says, adding that Blue Crab’s contribution history should not be attributed to Empire for the purposes of contributing to the union’s employee retirement fund.

Empire Crab wants the court to declare that not a single union employee works for them for the purpose of assessing and collecting withdrawal liability, as well as further attorneys’ fees and costs the court may deem just and proper.

Empire Crab Inc. is being represented by attorneys Daniel J. Brennan, Esq. and Brian P. Shire, Esq. of Susanin, Widman and Brennan, P.C. of Chester County.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Case number 2:16-cv-01028-CDJ

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