In some shocking news today, B&H Photo Video, the largest non-chain retailer of photography and video equipment in the United States, is being accused of racial discrimination, hazardous working conditions, and wage theft in their warehouses by nearly 200 latino workers.
Even more shocking is the conditions workers are being subjected to during 12-17 hour shifts. In one warehouse workers are reportedly exposed to an insulated fiberglass roof that flakes onto their skin causing breathing issues, skin irritation, and daily nosebleeds. The second warehouse is reported to have insulated asbestos tubing workers are forced to clean.
The majority of warehouse workers are undocumented workers who claim they are suffering from kidney stones, dizziness, and almost fainting because they are denied access to water. The scariest report from the workers from a September 15, 2014, fire in front of their Navy Yard warehouse. Two tractor trailers caught on fire and sent black smoke billowing into the shipping and receiving area while workers were forced to continue. Supervisors eventually let the workers go, but not before making them pass through a metal detector line that took 30 minutes to exit while smoke continued to flood in.
In the Aljazeera America article, a worker named Florencio Salgado was quoted as saying, “They treat us as if we were animals. We are involved in this because we are tired of being abused.”
This is not B&H’s first time being accused of workplace violations. In 2007 B&H was successfully sued for an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint from latino warehouse workers receiving unequal pay and lack of health benefits. The group of workers settled for $4.3 million. There was a second lawsuit in 2009 by a group of women workers suing for unequal pay, but it was dismissed and the lead plaintiff was fired.
Out of 240 total warehouse workers, 199 have signed union cards with the United Steelworkers. The newly unionized workers are demanding safer workplace conditions and the end to the discrimination of fellow latino employees.
B&H Photo Video is known as one of the most reputable camera retailers in the world, but this shocking revelation of worker abuse will be an eye-opening story for photographers who buy their equipment at B&H. The sweatshop-like conditions, and the lack of basic human rights like water breaks and safety, might be the unraveling of trust in this well-liked camera retailing giant.