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.
“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.