B&H Photo Video Pro Audio, a retailer in the photo industry that is close to the hearts of many photographers, is currently facing quite a bit of public heat after a story run by Al-Jazeera America related the accounts and complaints of around 200 of their warehouse workers. To clarify, these are the accounts of warehouse workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard–not at the superstore located at 34th and 9th in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen.
The article explains that undocumented workers were receiving inhumane treatment as Florencio Salgado said “They treat us as if we were animals.” It continues to make specific citations about one worker being cut open and bleeding while a manager refused to call an ambulance. Another citation references a worker who fell off of a palette and hurt his back–then being reassigned to lift heavy goods. And the biggest references a fire right outside the warehouse and the workers not being allowed to leave.
Problems like this are stated in the article to have been going on for years; but they have boiled over to the point where the workers can’t take it anymore. So on Sunday, these workers publicly denounced the company in a document where it is stated that:
“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.
We reached out to B&H Photo for commentary and at the moment their official response is “No comment.” However, the company let us know that if that changes, we’ll be receiving a phone call.
While the public denouncement has been made, it’s unclear at the moment as to whether or not this will escalate into yet another lawsuit for the company.
B&H Photo isn’t the only company that has had problems like this. Amazon is another major photo retailer (though not photo speciality) that has also had similar problems.
B&H Photo has a history of problems with workers though. In 2010, WNYC reported on the company facing multiple lawsuits, and the company has also faced problems with the treatment of women. This lawsuit, filed in 2009, was dismissed while others have been settled.
Back in 2007, the company settled a $4.3 million discrimination lawsuit from Latino workers over unequal pay and a lack of health benefits being provided by the company.