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B&H workers vote to unionize with United Steelworkers

Union declares ‘overwhelming’ victory in organizing bid after allegations of worker intimidation and unsafe conditions

The organizing campaign at the biggest non-chain photo store in the United States has declared victory, one day after workers at two of the store’s warehouses voted in a union election. The United Steelworkers, the union which has been organizing B&H Photo Video warehouse workers, said Wednesday that it won the vote by an “overwhelming” 200-to-88 margin.

Workers at the two B&H warehouses in Brooklyn have complained of unsafe working conditions and accused the company of harassment. Workers reached out to the Laundry Workers Center — a non-union, alternative labor group — after what they described as managerial negligence in the face of a September 2014 warehouse fire.

Last month, approximately 200 workers affiliated with the union campaign launched a series of protests against the company, demanding union recognition. Not long afterward, they filed an unfair labor practices charge against B&H, accusing their employer of trying to quash the union campaign through illegal intimidation tactics. The company has denied the charges.

“It was obvious that employees at B&H needed collective bargaining representation in order to address dangerous working conditions and discrimination in their workplace. It was something that the company was otherwise unwilling to do,” said USW District 4 Director John Shinn in a statement celebrating the vote.

The protections that B&H workers are demanding won’t fully exist until the workers successfully negotiate a contract with their employer. That process could take months.

B&H said in a statement that it maintains its commitment to "engage in a respectful dialogue with our employees."

“Our employees have played a central role to the success of our business, and that is why we have gone to great lengths to ensure the highest standards for living wages and benefits, workplace safety, and respect and dignity in the workplace,” the company said. “We look forward to continuing an ongoing dialogue with our employees to make sure that, like our customers, their satisfaction is a central focus of our business model.”

The Laundry Workers Center is already looking ahead to negotiations, as it indicated in a Facebook post following the vote. “After a year of organizing, workers have a voice, dignity, respect … UNION!” said the post. “Now the struggle continues — on to a contract!”

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