UPDATE: B&H has relayed their official response regarding the matter to HDSLR Shooter. You can find it here: B&H Responds To Accusations of Employee Abuse #BHExposed
A shocking open letter has recently been published by the group #BHExposed alleging camera gear resell giant B&H Photo/Video has committed numerous abuses against its warehouse workers, including overly long work shifts, poor safety conditions, lack of training and much more.
The letter comes from over 200 workers attempting to form a union with help from the Laundry Worker’s Center for better workplace conditions. The letter describes a number of shocking abuses that, if true, could potentially cause some serious issues for B&H. Such allegations include:
- Exposure to dusts including fiberglass, benzene and asbestos, that led to chronic nosebleeds and skin rashes
- Lack of access to water that led to some workers developing kidney stones
- Being instructed to carry heavy loads alone, leading to musculoskeletal injuries
- Workers required to work 13-16 hour shifts with only one 45 minute lunch break, and no other breaks
- Verbal abuse including being called derogatory names
- Little or no safety training
- On one occasion workers were not allowed to leave the warehouse for more than 30 minutes during a fire that was filling the building with smoke
- Retaliation against workers organizing a union
These sorts of allegations are what some may typically attribute to overseas sweat shops. In describing the incident of the warehouse fire, Silverio Cano Alberto describes their brush with disaster “There was smoke and yelling and no one, including the manager, paid any attention. Finally, they told us we could leave, but we each had to pass through the metal detectors, which took about a half hour. When I got outside, the parking lot was filled with firemen and police. Imagine — if the fire had spread, we would never have all made it out”. Other workers described workplace injuries resulting from overly long work hours. “I felt my knee crack, and I just couldn’t get up,” says Martin Hernandez. “The pain was so intense, I couldn’t feel my foot.”
We reached out to B&H for comment but received no reply. The only statement that seems to have been made comes from B&H Senior Executive Vice President Hershel Jacobowitz to Al Jazeera America: ‘”We have committed, devoted, hard-working employees who enjoy above-industry salaries, generous benefit packages, 17 paid days off annually, and 3-weeks vacation time,” he wrote, adding that B&H provides a “safe, friendly environment.”‘
To some, these allegations may not come as a surprise. As Al Jazeera points out, B&H has actually had several previous lawsuits levied against them. The first of which is from 2007 for discrimination resulting in unequal pay and lack of health care benefits for Latino employees. The second was two years later by female workers alleging unequal pay and being passed up for promotion based on gender. That lawsuit was actually dismissed. Finally, a third lawsuit in 2011 by Latino workers claiming racial discrimination in promotion as well as the interesting part: “abusive work environment.”
To be fair, companies of this size are hit with lawsuits of all kinds on a regular basis, whether from disgruntled employees or legitimately wronged parties. Despite the volume of the complaint, these accounts are still unverified and only time will tell whether these allegations are true. The most recent development seems to be that the workers are continuing to purse forming a union and will soon file a formal lawsuit based on their claims. This uncertainty has not dissuaded supporters however, with IATSE and WITNESS publicly announcing their support of #BHExposed and hundreds if not thousands of signatures on their digital petition.
You can find out more about #BHExposed and their open letter to B&H at BHExposed.org.
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