This morning, workers in the basement warehouse of B&H Photo Video‘s flagship store in Manhattan voted 46–14 to unionize, hoping to give themselves a voice in a work environment that many have described as hazardous and abusive. Their decision to organize with the United Steelworkers — North America’s largest industrial labor union — occurs three weeks after a group of B&H employees picketed outside the store, announcing their intention to join a campaign launched by around 200 others stationed at the electronics merchandiser’s two Brooklyn warehouses.
“After this victory, what is coming is respect, fair treatment for all workers, and a decent salary,” B&H worker Benicio Najera said in a statement. As Hyperallergic previously reported, the pro-union employees, who largely comprise a Hispanic community, have described years of discrimination based on their race from managers, the majority of whom are Hasidic Jews. Such complaints range from brief incidents of name calling to disparities in wages. Workers have also described dangerous workplace conditions that threaten their personal safety. This month, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) confirmed a number of violations in both of the company’s Brooklyn warehouses, fining B&H $32,000. OSHA representative Ted Fitzgerald told Hyperallergic that B&H contested all citations and penalties on February 19; the notice of contest will now undergo independent review by the federal agency, and OSHA’s attorneys and B&H’s representatives will attempt to reach a settlement — a process that could take several months.
Today’s vote is nonetheless a huge success in strengthening an anti-discrimination campaign built from many months of effort under the guidance of the Laundry Workers Center — workers at all three of B&H’s sites have now decided in favor of union representation. The Brooklyn warehouse employees held their vote last November, with 200 favoring a union and 88 dissenting. United Steelworkers may now look into merging the bargaining processes as the workers in both boroughs negotiate contracts with B&H.
Hyperallergic reached out to B&H and received the following statement — the same one sent after November’s vote:
B&H Photo has always stood behind our employees’ legal right to seek union representation, and today’s outcome and our commitment to engage in a respectful dialogue with our Employees and their representatives still holds true.
Our employees have played a central role to the success of our business, and that is why we have gone to great lengths to ensure the highest standards for living wages and benefits, workplace safety, and respect and dignity in the workplace. We look forward to continuing an ongoing dialogue with our employees to make sure that like our customers, their satisfaction is a central focus of our business model.
Although the company may try to delay the collective bargaining process, the vote has given the workers yet another boost of encouragement to fight for their rights.
“Today, I am free. Not just me, but all my compañeros,” Zenaido Rosendo, an employee of 12 years, said in a statement. “We never thought we could realize our dreams, but now with the union it’s possible.”