Many camera enthusiasts know about B and H Photo Video, a really popular independent camera equipment retailer. The company has been accused of mistreating its workers in recent years. Warehouse workers formed a union in 2015, and the union was in the middle of negotiating better working conditions in January when the company announced that 300 warehouse jobs would be moved to a warehouse in New Jersey 45 minutes away. Today, members of several unions and community groups gathered to protest the decision outside the company’s main store downtown. Hannah Long-Higgins has the story.
LONG-HIGGINS: A small crowd gathered today outside the giant B and H Photo Video store on 34th Street. Unlike the customers walking through the automatic doors at the entrance, these people are not here to shop.
LOPEZ: Today we’re here from the community just basically supporting the workers.
LONG-HIGGINS: Mahoma Lopez helped to organize the event. He has come to pass out fliers. They say to boycott B and H, because the the move to New Jersey
LOPEZ: means more than 300 workers are going to lose their job.
LONG-HIGGINS: Tony Montana is a spokesperson for the United Steel Workers, which represents the B and H warehouse workers.
MONTANA: We filed unfair labor practices, almost immediately after the company notified us of this change.
LONG-HIGGINS: Montana says the timing of the company’s announcement was an aggressive move against the new union which was in the middle of a contract negotiation. Michael Mckeon is the spokesperson for B and H. He rejects the idea that the move and the negotiations are related.
MCKEON: B and H has a lease that expires next year
LONG-HIGGINS: Mckeon says the company has been struggling to find a new location.
MCKEON: They worked with city government, they worked with state government, to try and find an appropriate warehouse that was big enough and modernized to meet their needs.
LONG-HIGGINS: He says the one they found happens to be forty-five minutes away in New Jersey. Some critics say mayor de Blasio should have done more to help keep these jobs in the city. Back on the picket line, John Leavitt tells me he found out about today’s event through the Democratic Socialists of America website.
LEAVITT: I hope people understand the struggle of the workers here, both at this location and in stores all around the United States and in the city, and to keep jobs here and keep them local.
LONG-HIGGINS : As the crowd gets bigger, everyone huddles under the awning. I meet a man named Bill Tols in the middle of the group. He’s a regular customer.
LONG-HIGGINS: What do you think about what’s going on?
TOLS: I’m not surprised. I’ve shopped at B and H before they moved here, it was always a fairly insular company.
LONG-HIGGINS: Tols is referring to the fact that several B and H owners and many of the workers are Hasidic Jews. The company has recently had significant complaints that they are discriminating against their Latino warehouse employees– everything from long shifts to not being able to use the same bathroom as the Jewish workers.
TOLS: I’m not surprised that they would push back on somebody trying to organize.
LONG-HIGGINS: Will you continue to shop here?
TOLS: uhhh, Well, now that I know about this, I don’t know. They’re like the best game in town for just about everything.
LONG-HIGGINS : I tried to reach the workers who will be affected by the warehouse move, but they weren’t able to comment because they’re on duty…for now. Hannah Long-Higgins, Columbia Radio News.