Workers rallying outside B&H's Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse on October 15 (photo by Laura Gottesdiener, courtesy Laundry Workers Center)

Workers rallying outside B&H’s Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse on October 15 (photo by Laura Gottesdiener, courtesy Laundry Workers Center)

Just four days after B&H Photo Video employees announced their intention to form a union, describing hazardous working conditions and discriminatory practices at the photo and video retailer’s two Brooklyn warehouses, company representatives allegedly threatened them “with termination en masse.” According to workers’ rights group Laundry Workers Center (LWC), “anti-union consultants” claiming to work for B&H approached workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse Thursday afternoon, pulling some aside to “demand information about the union campaign.” Kristina Mazzocchi, an attorney representing many of the workers, also told Hyperallergic that five men and women workers had never seen before were “engaging in aggressive interrogation actions with the workers” throughout the afternoon, starting around 1pm.

“The assumption was that they were from ‘HR,’ but it seems like they were hired consultants of some sort,” Mazzocchi said. “We’re still not really sure who these people are, whether they were provided by the PR company or law firm B&H hired.”

According to Mazzocchi, the consultants interrogated groups of workers behind closed doors, “screaming at them, pointing at them, threatening them.” Some workers were told that they were being fired or having vacation days taken away.

Warehouse workers rally on the evening of October 15 after allegedly being locked out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard building by B&H (photo via @peoplespowerassembliesnyc/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

Warehouse workers rally on the evening of October 15 after allegedly being locked out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard building by B&H (photo via @peoplespowerassembliesnyc/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

“They threatened us by saying that if we don’t stop organizing we will get fired,” Kevin Vega, a five-year employee who works in the shipping department, told LWC. “What reassured us was that we are united and that we have community support and cannot be defeated.”

Workers at the Navy Yard warehouse also allege that representatives demanded they sign documents, telling them to vacate the premises when they did not comply. Mazzocchi is withholding the documents pending legal action; Henry Posner, B&H’s director of corporate communications, told Hyperallergic that he has “no idea what documents, if any, your story refers to.” Around 5pm on Thursday, according to video footage obtained by Mazzocchi (also withheld), the representatives repeatedly shouted at the workers to “get out” while signaling toward the door and even actively pushing some out. She describes them as “security-like guys — big, muscular, tall white men,” and notes that one grabbed a worker’s cell phone as he was leaving, smashing it.

According to LWC, a worker overheard one of these men say, “There will not be a union, over my dead body.”

The workers remained on site to protest the employer intimidation; employees at the Bushwick outpost, upon hearing the news, also began demonstrations outdoors as a gesture of solidarity. Police soon appeared at B&H warehouse in Bushwick after receiving a phone call from a B&H representative, as Mazzocchi confirmed with an NYPD officer on site. As both rallies continued, Mazzocchi and Jeanne Mirer, another lawyer representing the workers, called a B&H manager to investigate the workers’ claims and clarify the status of their jobs. Mazzocchi says the manager initially claimed that the workers voluntarily walked out, then “quickly changed his tune,” saying that he believed they were not fired and were welcome to return to the warehouse. Employees returned to work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse on Friday morning, while workers at the Bushwick warehouse held a solidarity rally at 7am.

“I have been assured no one was locked out, no one was fired, no one was threatened with termination, we did not call the NYPD,” Posner told Hyperallergic. “Oddly, even though I’m following this on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere, en masse threats and a smashed cell phone are new reports to me.

“I was not there, but the possibility we’d hire actors to portray managers is, frankly, hardly credible,” he continued. B&H says that it respects its workers’ rights to request union representation and maintains that allegations of dangerous and discriminatory workplace conditions are false. A letter workers hand-delivered on Sunday to owner Herman Schreiber and Chief Executive Officer and President Sam Goldstein states that B&H has until October 20 to reply; if they do not receive “a favorable reply,” as the Times reported, their lawyers will move to file 180 individual claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Employees and community supporters are calling for another rally this Sunday from 3–6pm in front of B&H’s midtown retail store.

Workers at the B&H warehouse facility in Bushwick entering the workplace this morning (photo by Erik McGregor)

Workers at the B&H warehouse facility in Bushwick entering the workplace this morning (photo by Erik McGregor, used with permission)

B&H warehouse workers, activists, and supporters outside the Bushwick warehouse facility this morning (photo by Erik McGregor)

B&H warehouse workers, activists, and supporters outside the Bushwick warehouse facility this morning (photo by Erik McGregor, used with permission)

Protestors standing in solidarity with warehouse workers this morning at B&H's Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse (photo by Erik McGregor)

Protestors standing in solidarity with warehouse workers this morning at B&H’s Bushwick warehouse (photo by Erik McGregor, used with permission)

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

13 replies on “Workers Fighting to Unionize Claim B&H Photo Threatened “Termination en Masse””

  1. I had no idea that B&H employed a back office in Brooklyn that they exploited like this. This is reprehensible. Was going to buy a hard drive from them as per usual but when I heard the news I bought it on Best Buy’s site to pick up. Turns out it’s more convenient anyway. Will send an email to them as well.

    1. This is the email I got from B&H’s corporate communications guy, Henry Posner:

      Thank you for reaching out to inquire about the recent news articles you’ve seen. At B&H we value your feedback and appreciate your concern for our business and our staff. Allegations in the public are just that, allegations; and we would like to take the opportunity to set the record straight.

      B&H Photo is a classic New York business who recognizes we could not have grown from where we began to what we are now without the dedication and contribution of our employees, each of whom is a valued team member.

      Employee satisfaction is as important to us, and as vital to us, as customer satisfaction. The two are intertwined. Our commitment to our employees runs as deep as it does to our loyal customer base. They are the reasons we are here and to both we are eternally grateful.

      We have committed, devoted, hard-working employees who earn above-average industry salaries, generous benefit packages, 17 paid days off annually, and 3-weeks paid vacation time. Our average employee tenure in our distribution and fulfillment center is more than five years. We provide terrific benefits, highly competitive wages and a safe, friendly environment.

      B&H has a strong and independent human resources department which strictly adheres to workplace regulations. We take matters of employee safety seriously and are committed to reaching even higher standards to ensure that we live up to our own expectations commensurate with the excellent reputation we have fostered over many years.

      As to the matter of union representation, our employees have the right to seek such representation. It is a decision to be made by our employees, and there is a process underway to resolve that question.

      — –
      Henry Posner
      Director of Corporate Communications
      B&H Photo-Video, and Pro-Audio

  2. The “exploitation” is being done TO the B&H company by illegal aliens…which they never should have hired. Tell those “workers” to WALK…and hire real Americans at a few dollars more Henry.

    1. Henry? Certainly you don’t think the ‘H’ in B&H is for Henry. More like Herschel – nah, it’s really Herman. And Mr. Schrieber has to pay the gas for “an Orthodox Jewish bus company provides daily service to and from Kiryas Joel, a Satmar village in Orange County, New York.[4]” – wikipedia.

  3. I support the workers of B&H and will not buy any more equipment from them until they create fair working conditions and living wages.

    I am willing to pay higher prices or perhaps B&H ownership could stop taking the lions share of the profits for themselves.

    With all of the religious holidays they take off shouldn’t B&H be concerned about being decent mensch ?

  4. Over the years, I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars with B & H. No more. BTW, just because signs are in Spanish, that does not mean the workers are illegals. If they were illegals, who would be at fault anyway? It seems B & H did the hiring.

  5. My main concern with B&H and other online photo stores like Adorama is that they sell a lot of items online so deeply discounted that they’re barely making a profit on them — they rely on selling huge quantities and on the fact that people will buy online from outside New York to avoid paying sales tax. But if you’re outside New York City and not shopping at their retail store, what you’re doing is contributing to the demise of your local camera stores. In the DC-Baltimore area, we’ve already lost Penn Camera, a local chain. I try to support Service Photo here in Baltimore, where I can try out the equipment and get advice and technical support from salespeople who know what they’re doing, taking the long view that it’s worth paying slightly more for the — no pun intended — service. Now that I know that B&H’s low prices are probably also made possible by underpaying the employees, it gives me another reason to shop local whenever I can.

    1. I have a camera shop about a mile and a half from my house, but their prices are often twice what B&H sells for. It’s hard to justify supporting local businesses when there’s such a price difference. For things like new cameras, everyone sells for about the same, but I was looking at stuff like powdered developer and other specialty items. I do buy from my local shop (Dodd Camera & Video), but B&H sells a lot of stuff that isn’t available there.

  6. As a regular customer of 15 years I will be keeping an eye on this issue before I decide to spend with B&H again.

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