New York, NY—This afternoon, workers from B&H Photo and their families launched a union campaign representing over 150 warehouse workers, with worker-led group Laundry Workers Center and the United Steelworkers, calling for the NY-based photo and video giant to fix dangerous workplace conditions, end discrimination against Latino employees, and stop wage theft at their two Brooklyn warehouses.
“We decided to change the conditions in our workplace. We demand respect and to be treated as human beings,” said Raul Pedraza, a B&H warehouse worker for over 6 years.
The workers described shocking conditions at B&H Photo warehouses. Employees are told to unload or carry extremely heavy loads, without sufficient help or safety training. Pallets are often stacked more than 15 feet high, and workers operating the heavy machinery to unload the pallets are rarely trained. Other workers are forced to carry heavy loads alone and suffer back injuries. Dust is constantly in the air, and the rooms are extremely hot and dirty. “My nose bleeds two or three times a day sometimes,” said B&H worker Silverio Cano. “I went to the doctor, and she told me that the nosebleeds were caused by the dust in the warehouse.”
Workers say they are not permitted to use emergency exits. During a recent fire at the warehouse, “there was a ton of smoke, but we continued working, even when the room filled with smoke,” recalled B&H Photo worker Baltizar Martinez. “When we were finally allowed to leave, we had to go through the metal detectors. This process lasted for a half hour. When we got outside, there were 50 firefighters and a helicopter, and imagine! We had been inside, working, this whole time.” After the fire, nothing changed. “The alarm goes off from time to time, but no one pays it any attention,” said Martinez.
B&H workers detail erratic and oppressive scheduling, working from 7:30am until whenever management says they can leave—often as late as 11pm. Workers say they are not allowed to take the meals and rest breaks required by law, nor use their cell phones to reach their families. On the heels of a number of discrimination settlements at B&H, the campaign alleges significant discrimination against Latino workers, who are verbally abused and paid substantially less than other warehouse employees, many of whom are Orthodox Satmar Jews.
The workers leading the B&H campaign have trained with Laundry Workers Center for over a year, learning about their rights in the workplace as immigrant workers. The Laundry Workers Center is a grassroots group training workers to take action and better their jobs, lives and communities. “There is no justice except the justice you make for yourself,” said Mahoma López, co-executive director of Laundry Workers Center.
Now workers are forming a union with United Steelworkers, and demand that B&H formally recognize their union. “The managers and the owners act as if they have the right to do whatever they want,” said Martinez. “But it shouldn’t be that way. We have rights too.”