NYC immigrants strike against union busting

May 2017 B&H workersBy MARTY GOODMAN

— NEW YORK — B&H Photo, the nation’s largest non-chain photo store, announced during contract negotiations plans to shut down two warehouses in Brooklyn and move facilities 75 miles away to Florence, N.J., by the end of the year. For 330 immigrant B&H warehouse workers who belong to the United Steel Workers (USW) union, the move will bust their union and destroy their jobs. Some workers have slaved there for up to 10 years.

The B&H bosses, whose annual revenue exceeds a quarter-billion dollars, have refused to provide transportation to N.J. for its workers. This blatant union-busting is a cold-blooded attack on the entire labor movement. The workers are mostly from Mexico and Central America. We say, “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

On May 1, May Day, 200 B&H warehouse workers struck against union busting and in solidarity with the national “day without immigrants,” which included New York City protests and marches. Outside the Manhattan store over 100 strikers and supporters held a morning picket, chanting, “What’s disgusting? Union busting!”

B&H worker Francisco Pimental told the rally, “We are here today to let B&H know that we, the workers, have the power. We will not allow B&H to leave over 300 workers without a job!” Some supporters shouted, “Boycott B&H!” as they leafleted customers.

Following worker complaints in 2007, B&H was hit with $4.3 million in fines from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs for racism and sexism in contracts with the federal government, which included “whites only” toilets, racist pay discrepancies, and discrimination against women—who, if hired at all, are paid less than men for the same work.

In Nov. 2015, warehouse workers fought and won a union recognition vote by a dramatic 200 to 88 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Bushwick warehouses. In February 2016, warehouse workers at the Manhattan store, who do not face immediate job loss, also unionized.

B&H says it must move by 2018 when its lease with the city expires. The warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard is adjacent to a major TV/film studio owned by Doug Steiner, a pal of “progressive” Democratic Party Mayor Bill de Blasio and a contributor to the mayor’s causes, which includes a proposal for a new trolley line stopping at the Steiner studios.

The mayor’s campaign to promote corporate media produced in the city stands in contrast to record homelessness and his re-zoning scheme that will gentrify the mostly Hispanic northern Manhattan.

B&H is owned by millionaire Herman Schreiber, a member of the Jewish Satmar Hasidic sect in Brooklyn, who provides B&H jobs for the ultra-orthodox (male) community. Brooklyn’s orthodox Jewish leaders have delivered big blocks of votes to de Blasio. In contrast, dozens of other Jewish leaders denounced B&H abuses.

The B&H organizing drive was spearheaded by New York’s non-profit Laundry Worker’s Center. In 2012, the LWC successfully organized immigrant workers at the “Hot and Crusty” bakery on the upscale Upper East Side, documented in the award winning film, “The Hand That Feeds.” In response, B&H has hired the notorious union-busting firm Jackson, Lewis LLP.

Conditions at B&H before unionization were a throwback to the 1800s. “They treated us like animals,” said Amando Girron, a B&H employee for nine years. Warehouse work included exposure to fiberglass and asbestos, a lack of water, carrying heavy items alone, working 13 to 16 hour shifts with only one 45-minute lunch break, no safety training, not being permitted to leave the warehouse for 30 minutes during a fire in 2014, and dismissals of union supporters.

Rosanne Rodriguez, a LWC co-director, told Socialist Action, “These workers are a treasure. They are brave and powerful; they’ve been fighting for dignity for two years. We cannot let this company run away!” Please show your solidarity when and where you can. Checkout LWCU.org and #BHEXPOSED for picket times, updates and much more.

Photo: Marty Goodman / Socialist Action