B&H Photo furloughed a bunch of workers, and they’re claiming discrimination. I believe them. And if you don’t want to read this, use our Listen to Article feature.
I honestly don’t even know where to start with this story. Photographers, influencers, and even publications have touted the mafia that is B&H Photo. But in the past few years, folks have started to become a lot more vocal about how awful of a company they are. If you care about minority rights, you need to stop supporting B&H. If you care about women’s rights, you need to take a closer look at B&H Photo. And if you care about true equality, you should really do some soul searching. If you’re angry about tax dodging politicians, you should also be angry at B&H Photo. And the latest changes are a reminder that the company will say that they’ll change, but they really won’t.
I’ll admit, as a native NYer, that I don’t usually trust the NYPost. But this story seems very credible. Furloughed workers are complaining a lot about discrimination, and I believe them. Earlier this year, the company laid off 400 people that we know of. B&H Photo is run by Hasidic Jewish people. Sure, there are non-Hasidic higher-ups. But that only recently started to happen. The report from the NYPost is very telling, though. And in this article, I wish to analyze and break it down for you.
“It’s a position they wouldn’t be in, they suspect, if they were part of the company’s inner circle of Hasidic Jewish staffers, who they say get special treatment.”
This statement is one that I personally feel is true. Walk around 440 9th ave on any given day, and you’ll see lots of guys hanging out outside taking cigarette breaks. Visit their offices, and you’ll probably see guys sleeping at their desks. I worked at B&H Photo for long enough, early in my 20s. The company could fire a solid 35% of their Hasidic workforce and still operate at 100%. This statement in the NYPost article is being made because lots of those guys don’t do anything. When they sleep at their desks, another co-worker will defend them. “Oh, he has kids, let him rest,” was a common thing. But when a 20-something me was literally going legally blind due to astigmatism based headaches, I needed to fight through the pain to get articles done for their website. Why not leave? Well, B&H Photo pays just well enough to make you not want to leave. and there are healthcare benefits. If anything, you probably keep the job because of that. But as is evidenced by the Warehouse Workers union efforts, non-Jews aren’t often paid as well.
One also needs to remember the opinions of some of their employees. Earlier this year, the company said that they fired an employee over his statement on Black Lives Matter. We discussed this in our own statement. But there’s evidence that he wasn’t fired at all. This is a common tactic for B&H Photo. They’ll reshuffle someone into the backrooms for a while. And when it all blows over, that person will return to their job. They basically try to brush it under the rug.
“Wagner, a professional photographer who worked as a product description writer for B&H, says he believes he has not been asked back to work after he raised a fuss in March about the daily prayer services, which took place in the company’s lunch rooms.”
I believe this 100%. B&H regularly sends out memos to all employees about services that happen in the lunchrooms. Wagner later says, “I believe they retaliated against me for simply asking whether I was in close contact with someone with COVID.” And that also sounds very plausible. B&H does things to purposely make people feel uncomfortable or make their lives difficult. Seating arrangements are changed many times a year, which is only a part of it. It makes communicating with the rest of the company sort of difficult as the various directors often play political games with one another. But for the most part, most of the HR folks are very nice. But when they want to intimidate you, you’ll send Stan Slezinger after you. The NYPost article doesn’t mention Stan. But anyone that’s worked there would.
The NYPost article has bits and pieces about job listings. And I can confirm that people are being threatened about their jobs. B&H Photo will do this. Sometimes the threats have teeth. Sometimes, they don’t really. But the company will let it blow over at times. I’ve personally been reached out to by current and former B&H Photo employees asking for help on finding jobs.
- In October 2007, it was announced that B&H Photo agreed to pay US$4.3 million to settle allegations that it discriminated against Hispanic workers, while not admitting any wrongdoing.
- In November 2009, a lawsuit against B&H Photo alleged that the store refused to hire women, in violation of New York City and New York State Human Rights Laws. The lawsuit, brought by four women, sought class action status on behalf of all women discriminated against by B&H over the course of many years. Given B&H’s prior alleged discriminatory practices, the lawsuit sought US$19 million in compensatory and punitive damages to deter future discriminatory practices. In 2011, a lawsuit alleged discrimination against Hispanic workers.
- In February 2016, the United States Department of Labor Office of Contract Compliance filed a lawsuit against B&H alleging that the company had only hired Hispanic men into entry-level jobs in a Brooklyn warehouse, and then subjected them to harassment and unsanitary conditions. On August 16, 2017, the company announced that it had settled this matter for a reported $3.22 million, while not admitting any wrongdoing.
- In November 2019, According to The Verge, the Attorney General of New York state filed a lawsuit alleging that B&H knowingly failed to pay millions of dollars in sales taxes due in New York. The company’s spokesperson has said that “B&H has done nothing wrong and it is outrageous”. According to B&H, the Attorney General is alleging that customers should pay sales tax on pre-discounted prices, not on the actual selling price, which is the widespread industry practice.
I’m also sad to say this, but there’s a history of supporting B&H Photo among influencers, publications, and YouTubers. I’ve talked with many of them before about it. B&H Photo often provides sponsorship with free gear. But at other times, it’s just about review units. The influencers and YouTubers are all B&H Photo affiliates. That means that when you make a purchase using their links to B&H Photo, they get a percentage of the purchase total. For them to create reviews, they ask their B&H affiliate representative. This is different from what we do, where we work directly with the manufacturer. I should mention here that we used to be a B&H Photo affiliate. But we don’t promote them anymore. And from our years’ old pieces, we make not even enough to pay rent.
I’ve spoken with many of these folks before. Amongst many, we’re seen as a shining gold star for ethics. We have 100% transparency, and we’re pro LGBT, BLM, etc. I’m in the process of working with PhotoFocus to transition them away from B&H Photo and to being a lot more ethical as a publication. When Hugh Brownstone and I were on speaking terms, I’d plead with him to not work with B&H Photo. I’ve also tried to do the same for Ted Forbes, Dan Watson, and many of the others out there. The ones who stood true are the Northrups, and to this day, I commend them for taking the ethical path. I’ve also further gone and told my ad agency many times that we refuse to work with B&H Photo. It’s never going to happen as long as they don’t change.
And so I implore all of you to consider your own ethics on this. B&H Photo getting sued for discrimination over and over again, is the equivalent of us getting sued for copyright infringement over and over again. And we’ve never been sued for it because we don’t do it! If we did it as many times as they did in a decade, we’d be shut down. But B&H Photo hasn’t been. There are far better and ethical choices. MPB is great for used gear. LensRentals is our favorite Rental house. FotoCare here in NYC is great too. Adorama is pretty awesome as well. And we regularly champion Amazon. But when we do this, we often link to smaller retailers to try to help them out. Otherwise, we link directly to a manufacturer’s store on Amazon. And without them, we wouldn’t be able to keep doing the good that we do.
If you have anything to share about B&H Photo, please let us know.