The Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) has called for a national boycott of B&H Photo and Video because the company has “notoriously violated its workers’ rights.”
B&H, a company with $2.65 billion in sales revenue, sells professional quality photo and video equipment at its super store in New York City and on the internet.
Workers at the company’s warehouse in the Brooklyn Naval Yards in 2015 voted to unionize and joined the United Steelworkers (USW)..
Since then, the warehouse workers, who are mostly Latino immigrants, have been trying to reach an agreement with the company on their first collective bargaining agreement.
But B&H has dragged out the negotiations and in January announced that it will move its two Brooklyn warehouses 75 miles away to South New Jersey.
The new warehouse is located in an area that is not accessible by public transportation from New York City.
In addition to demanding that B&H negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement, the union also wants the company to bargain about its decision to move the workers’ jobs out of state.
The company refuses to negotiate on the move, and if the move goes through, most workers will lose their jobs.
DSA members have been supporting the workers for the last 16 weeks by picketing the B&H store, and the workers themselves have taken direct actions such as their one-day strike on May Day.
But to no avail.
“That’s why . . . DSA is launching a new national boycott effort and website, www.boycottbnh.com, to tell the company: Settle a contract with your workers! End the exploitation!” said Maria Svart, DSA national director in an email message to members.
B&H has had a bit of history with worker rights violations.
The company in 2009 agreed to pay $4.3 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by the US Department of Labor over claims by Latino workers that they were paid unequal pay and benefits.
Also in 2009, female employees sued the company charging that B&H paid female employees less than their male counterparts. The suit was subsequently dismissed.
Despite the lawsuits, workers at B&H’s warehouse said that they continue to be treated badly by B&H.
Latino workers complained of verbal and in some cases physical abuse by their supervisors.
They work as much as 13 to 16 hours a day with only one 45 minute break for lunch.
They also said that they work in an unsafe environment exposed to fiberglass dust that causes respiratory problems, skin rashes, and nosebleeds. They are also exposed to asbestos and benzene.
The final straw came in 2014 when two tractor trailers parked next door to the company’s Brooklyn Naval Yard warehouse caught fire.
The smoke from the fire started billowing into the B&H warehouse, and it appeared that the fire might spread to the warehouse.
Instead of being allowed to evacuate the warehouse, workers were told to wait. When management finally allowed the workers the leave, they had to exit through a metal detector causing a bottleneck in the evacuation route.
Because of the bottleneck, it took 30 minutes for the evacuation to be complete.
Some of the workers decided that they needed help to address their grievances, and they turned to the Laundry Workers Center, which helps immigrant workers in the laundry business.
Organizers from the Laundry Workers Center helped the B&H warehouse workers form an organizing committee that succeeded in getting a union representation election held.
In a November 2015 vote, B&H warehouse workers voted 200 to 88 to join the United Steelworkers.
But B&H did what a lot of other employers do when workers vote to join a union. It slow walked the negotiations in order to buy more time.
By 2016, there was still no collective bargaining agreement, and the company was still not addressing the grievances raised by its workers.
That same year, the US Labor Department filed a suit against B&H alleging that the company paid Latino workers less than white workers and that the company refused to hire blacks, women, and Asian workers into entry level positions.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration also fined B&H $32,000 for hazardous working conditions.
DSA’s boycott website urges people to sign a letter addressed to B&H owners. The letter expresses outrage at the treatment of the B&H workers and the company’s refusal to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.
“I will take my business elsewhere until you reverse your decision to move the warehouses to New Jersey and negotiate a reasonable contract with your unionized Brooklyn workers” concludes the letter.