B&H is one of the biggest retail names in the world of photography, but it’s also the one at the center of a new controversy after nearly 200 workers launched a campaign to unionize. The disgruntled employees accuse the photo retail giant of widespread racial discrimination, wage theft, and unsafe working conditions inside the Brooklyn-based warehouses.
Al Jazeera America published a lengthy report today after interviewing a number of B&H employees involved in the movement.
The stories are alarming. One man reports doing 13-hour warehouse shifts and getting his spine injured in an accident — he attributes it to a lack of proper training. Another accuses B&H of failing to provide safety equipment (i.e. gloves) because it’s too expensive. Others report suffering health damage from working near dust and fiberglass/asbestos insulation.
B&H has been slapped with multiple discrimination lawsuits over the years, reports Al Jazeera America: a settled $4.3 million one in 2007 by Latino workers, another in 2009 by female workers, and a third in 2011 by another two Latino workers.
A large group of employees flooded into B&H’s retail store this week, occupying the space with chants for justice:
Posted by Santiago Cano on Sunday, October 11, 2015
Workers have also been demonstrating on the sidewalks outside the store:
On Sunday October 11th, unhappy workers launched a union campaign with Laundry Workers Center and the United Steelworkers. They’re calling for B&H to recognize their new union and “to fix dangerous workplace conditions, end discrimination against Latino employees, and stop wage theft at their two Brooklyn warehouses.”
Update on 10/14/2015: Here’s an official statement from B&H from spokesman Ronn Torossian:
B&H Photo is the quintessential New York business, which began 42 years ago as a storefront operation and has blossomed into a significant force in photography and consumer electronic industry.
We have committed, devoted, hard-working employees who enjoy above-industry salaries, generous benefit packages, 17 paid days off annually, and 3-weeks vacation time.
We could not have grown from where we began to what we are now without the help of our employees, nor could we have grown had we not had the same commitment to our diverse teams of over 2000 employees that we have to our loyal customer base.
Our staff is a key to our success, and we are proud of our average employee tenure in our distribution and fulfillment center of more than five years. B&H provides terrific benefits, highly competitive wages and a safe, friendly environment. B&H has been and remains committed to the satisfaction of our employees.
Image credits: Header photo by Dmadeo