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(Pittsburgh) – Today, some workers at two B&H warehouses in Bushwick and in the Brooklyn Navy Yard voted by a 200-to-88 margin for representation by the United Steelworkers (USW) union. Workers had complained that they had been forced to work long hours in unsafe environments without proper training, while subject to discrimination.
“It was obvious that employees at B&H needed collective bargaining representation in order to address dangerous working conditions and discrimination in their workplace,” said USW District 4 director John Shinn. “It was something that the company was otherwise unwilling to do.”
In early October, USW union representatives delivered a letter addressed to the company’s owner, Herman Schreiber, and its chief executive officer and president, Sam Goldstein, asking to be acknowledged as the “sole and exclusive bargaining representative of the employees.”
Another letter was delivered to the company asking that it act on complaints that employees had been subject to discrimination because they are Hispanic and had been pressured by managers to sign English-language forms releasing the company from medical claims. In addition, the letter said that employees had been forced to work long hours in warehouses where emergency exits were blocked and noxious dust appeared to cause rashes and nosebleeds.
Labor problems were not new at B&H. In 2007, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that the company had agreed to pay $4.3 million to settle a discrimination case stemming from claims that the company paid Hispanic employees in its warehouses less than other workers and failed to provide them with health benefits.
The company ran an aggressive anti-union campaign prior to the vote. Critical to the success of the organizing effort was the participation of Laundry Workers Center United, a community- based organization in the New York City area.
The workers received additional support on Oct. 22, when a coalition of photography and video professionals launched an open letter to B&H management, calling on the photo manufacturing giant to end the hazardous working conditions and discriminatory practices. They also called on the company to negotiate a fair labor contract. Within a week more than 1,000 signatures from artists, journalists, gallerists, educators, students and photo technicians were obtained.
“We welcome the workers at B&H to the USW and look forward to addressing their concerns with the company at the bargaining table,” said Shinn.
The USW represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in many industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining and the service and public sectors. For more information: http://www.usw.org/.