B&H employees go back to work but will continue fight
Stephon Johnson | 11/5/2015, 4:35 p.m.
Workers at B&H Photo in Manhattan are pushing for unionization and better wages and fighting with their employer in the process.
Late last month, B&H Photo workers launched a drive to unionize in an effort to fight against what they believe to be unsafe working conditions, wage theft and discrimination felt by Latino employees. Last week, worker representatives said they were threatened with termination.
“They threatened us by saying that if we don’t stop organizing, we will get fired,” said Kevin Vega, a shipping department worker who has worked at B&H for five years, in a statement. “What reassured us was that we are united and that we have community support and cannot be defeated.”
According to workers, they were pulled from their work stations and met with consultants who demanded information about union campaign leaders and threatening those who didn’t speak to them. Workers allegedly recorded managers screaming at workers who didn’t comply with orders. Workers have filed a criminal complaint with the NYPD, and while B&H management has hired the law firm Jackson Lewis (which has a reputation for union busting) and public relations executive Ronn D. Torossian to represent them.
“These agents working for B&H were not successful in intimidating us because we have the right to organize and we have support,” said Francisco Pimentel, another B&H shipping department employee who has worked at B&H for five years, in a statement. “B&H rehired us because they need us. We are the labor force.”
In a statement released to Al Jazeera America, B&H Senior Executive Vice President Hershel Jacobowitz said, “We have committed, devoted, hard-working employees who enjoy above-industry salaries, generous benefit packages, 17 paid days off annually and three-weeks vacation time.” Jacobowtiz also said that they provide a “safe, friendly environment.”
Workers recently announced their intent to organize with the United Steelworkers, representing more than 150 warehouse workers in two Brooklyn-based B&H facilities. An organizer with the United Steelworkers union filed a National Labor Relations Board petition asking for a vote among workers on the desire for union representation. They’re currently being trained by the Laundry Workers Center, a grassroots organization.
Supporters and community allies rallied after workers claimed they were ordered off the premises of B&H’s Navy Yards warehouse. Workers claimed that once the Evergreen Avenue warehouse workers showed solidarity with them, the company said employees weren’t fired in the first place and they could return to work.