Workers are exposing B&H abuse

June 8, 2017

Dave Peters reports on the continuing fight of warehouse workers at B&H Photo Video, which is trying to bust their newly formed union by relocating work.

HUNDREDS OF workers have been fighting for months to demand a first contract from B&H Photo Video, which is trying to bust the new union representing its mostly Latinx workforce.

In the midst of the first contract negotiations with the union, which was formed in January, the company announced plans to move over 330 Brooklyn warehouse jobs to a New Jersey facility over 75 miles away.

The predominantly low-wage, immigrant workers at the B&H warehouses voted in 2015 to join the United Steelworkers (USW) to demand better and safer working conditions and an end to the abuse and discrimination against Latinx workers.

Workers at the B&H warehouse had reported inadequate training to use heavy machinery, exposure to asbestos, long hours, lack of access to safety equipment, restricted access to bathrooms and drinking water, and systematic harassment.

"They treat us as if we were animals," said Florencio Salgado to Al Jazeera. "We are involved in this because we are tired of being abused."

Additionally, Latinx workers reported making significantly less than other workers at the warehouse, being passed up for promotions, receiving an unfair share of the harder physical labor, being subjected to more strenuous security screenings than other workers, and experiencing racist verbal abuse from managers.

Warehouse workers for B&H Photo rally in Brooklyn in defense of their jobs
Warehouse workers for B&H Photo rally in Brooklyn in defense of their jobs (Laundry Workers Center | Facebook)

"They make me feel as if I was nobody," said Jorge Lora, a leader in the unionization effort. "It makes me feel beaten down, like I'm a loser... I don't mind hard work, but what I don't like is the humiliation."

B&H, a company with over $100 million in annual revenue, has an alarming history of labor issues.

The Department of Labor sued B&H in February 2016 for discriminating against Latinx workers--nine years after the company was forced to pay Latinx workers a $4.3 million settlement for various forms of discrimination, including unequal pay rates, unequal promotion, and denial of health benefits.

B&H was also sued in 2009 by current and former female employees who claimed that women were not allowed to work in sales, and the company has been fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for dangerous workplace conditions.

WITH ORGANIZATIONAL training and assistance from the Laundry Workers Center (LWC), a grassroots labor advocacy group, the warehouse workers at B&H successfully unionized in spite of a concerted effort by management and anti-union consultants to intimidate and threaten them.

What you can do

If you're in the New York City area, you can join the picket line at 420 9th Ave. in Manhattan on Fridays from 12 noon to 2 p.m. and Sundays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The majority of B&H's revenue comes from online sales, so you can also make a difference by spreading the word about B&H's practices on social media using #BHExposed.

In a #BHexposed video produced by the LWC, various workers testify to the reasons they decided to organize:

At B&H, all my co-workers are tired of the abuse. Because of this, we've decided to organize. Laundry Workers Center has trained us. They've taught us our rights, and how to defend ourselves.

We're fighting for a better future.

For no more verbal abuse.

We're here for respect.

Stop the discrimination.

We're here for a union.

After over a year of refusing to settle a contract with the union, B&H announced in January its intentions to move the warehouse jobs to the New Jersey facility in the second half of 2017.

"Moving to South New Jersey will make it difficult, and certainly a challenge, for employees currently relying on public transportation to accept employment offers at the new site," said USW district director John Shinn. "This is clearly an illegal tactic designed to avoid the company's obligation to bargain in good faith."

"We see this as an attempt to bust their union and stop the grassroots worker organizing that has resulted in concrete improvements at B&H," said Rosanna Rodríguez of the LWC.

The USW quickly filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, and the next stage of the struggle began.

Over 200 workers participated in a one-day strike on May Day. They drew many supporters to a picket line at the B&H retail store on the west side of Manhattan with signs demanding good jobs in New York City, flyers explaining their fight, and energetic chants of "What's disgusting? Union busting! What's outrageous? B&H wages!"

"We are here today to let B&H know that we, the workers, have the power," said warehouse worker Francisco Pimental. "We will not allow B&H to leave over 300 workers without a job."

After May 1, workers, supporters and members of other unions have continued to go out twice a week to picket, spread the word and apply pressure on the store. They recently organized a demonstration outside, and a direct action inside, of Optic 2017, a photography expo hosted by B&H, taking the stage and telling attendees about their host's many labor abuses.

Attendees of the expo found out that day something that the company already knows: Workers and their supporters are going to continue to fight for justice at B&H.

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