The Department of Labor vs. B&H Photo Video
B&H Photo Video has a history of lawsuits stemming from discrimination cases, including a $4.3 settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It's the largest non-chain photo store in the United States and it has $46 Million in contracts with the General Services Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The latest lawsuit filed by the US Department of Labor came as a result of a compliance investigation. B&H denies the allegations, but workers have a massive list of complaints about discrimination and unfair treatment.
Will this impact your decision about doing business with B&H Photo Video? I'll share my thoughts and more in this episode.
NOVEMBER 2009 – B&H Photo Sued for Talmudic Discrimination Against Women
BH Exposed – An Open Letter to B&H
Allegations of Mistreatment – PetaPixel Article on Allegations of Employee Mistreatment
B&H Response – PetaPixel Article with B&H Response to 2016 Lawsuit
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PHOTO FLUNKY: Episode 10
I’m your host, William Beem. Welcome to the Photo Flunky Show, Episode number ten.
Today’s topic: Are You Still Shopping At B&H Photo?
Hi, welcome to the Photo Flunky Show, available at photoflunky.com. You can find show notes for this episode at williambeem.com/episode10.
There’s been a lot in the news lately, at least in the photography world, about a Federal lawsuit against B&H Photo Video, up in New York. So let me give you a little bit of background. I’m sure most of you probably already know about B&H. It is a very popular store. It is the largest non chain photo and video store in the United States. They’ve got more than 5,000 customers that visit every day, most of them internet sales, and it has more than 1,500 employees.
The store is up in the Hell’s Kitchen area in Manhattan. I’ve been there and visited and did a little shopping while I was up in New York. There’s a warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It is an extremely large advertiser in photography publications and websites as well as a sponsor of photography events and shows. And, a little bit of disclosure, I have an affiliate relationship with B&H Photo with my website and I’ll give you a little bit more on that later.
So here’s the history of the recent lawsuit from the Federal Government; Labor Department, more specifically, and this is from a New York Times article and it says that the latest federal complaint came back from standard review. There have been other lawsuits in the past. B&H supplies contracts with General Services Administration for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and it’s worth about $46 million. Those contracts are at stake. They could be canceled and B&H could be prohibited from receiving other federal contracts if a judge decides that the company has failed to meet its obligations.
Why was the suit filed? It turns out that the contracts depend on kind of a review of previous settlements and lawsuits from the government. B&H, according to the complaint, it says, hired 101 entry level laborers at its warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. All of them were Hispanic males, none of them were women (which seems to make sense if they were all males!) and at the same time at other levels of the warehouse, the claim is the company paid white workers more and promoted them faster than their Hispanic counterparts. Some of the numbers I’ve seen show that the Hispanic workers were earning $20,000 – $21,000 per year and their white counterparts were earning about $38,000 – $39,000 per year. Almost double what their Hispanic counterparts had been making. The Hispanic workers have also claimed that they had to use unsanitary and inoperable restrooms.
This is one of the things that really struck me about the lawsuit and the folks at B&H are claiming that this is false, but the workers are complaining that they had to use separate and inferior restroom facilities than their white co-workers used. And that just struck me as bizarre! How can that even be in 2016? I mean, I thought segregated restrooms were pretty much abolished before I was born.
Let’s continue on and take a look at this. I don’t know if that claim is true or not, but it’s one that’s really getting a lot of popularity in this story.
There is a bit of a history of discrimination at B&H Photo.
October 2007: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and B&H reached a $4.3 million settlement in a national origin discrimination case. The claim was that B&H was discriminating against Hispanics and women.
November 2009: B&H Photo sued for Talmudic discrimination against women. There were four women involved, one current employee at the time and three former ones. They claimed that Jewish law forbids promoting a woman from cashier to a sales clerk. They looked it up in Jewish law and said there is no claim here that a cashier or a sales clerk must be male. Are they making this up as they go along? Honestly, I could not find any result of that. There were a couple of conflicting things with what I could find. One article said that they were suing for $8 million and another one said they were suing for $19 million, but I can’t seem to come across any results from that particular suit. But the fact that it happened and it was another discrimination case against women is part of what I’m seeing as a pattern with some of the research I’ve done so far.
I’ll have links to these articles on the Photo Flunky Show for you to review and check into for yourself.
Move ahead to December 2011: B&H was sued for discriminating against Hispanic workers. Once again, claims of discrimination that white workers were promoted to jobs faster and paid more, even if they had inferior knowledge of photography and the equipment to use in sales.
That brings us up to date to February 2016 and the Federal Labor Department lawsuit where B&H is being sued again.
Workers inside the B&H warehouse are claiming that they have unsafe working conditions; they are trying to form a union. I have mixed feelings on unions, but here’s a list of complaints they’ve got, and they’ve got a website also, explaining what some of the problems are and why they are trying to get this. It’s an open letter to B&H owners.
The complaints include:
- Exposure to dust, including fibre glass, benzene and asbestos that led to chronic nose bleeds and skin rashes;
- A lack of access to water that led to some workers developing kidney stones;
- Being instructed to carry heavy loads alone leading to musculoskeletal injuries;
- Workers required to work thirteen to sixteen hour shifts with only one 45 minute lunch break and no other breaks;
- Verbal abuse, including being called derogatory names;
- Little or no safety training;
- On one occasion, workers were not allowed to leave the warehouse for more than 30 minutes during a fire that was filling the building with smoke;
- Retaliation against workers organizing a union
I’ve got to say that some of these complaints are not the first time I’ve heard of them. I’ve had my own problems with B&H and some of those come back from, as a customer, having issues with delivery services. There are a couple of products that I’ve ordered from B&H in the past and sometimes I’ve had great service from them, but a couple of times I had an issue where I was charged for back ordered items that hadn’t shipped yet. Most reputable companies that I know don’t charge you until the company actually ships the item. Not so with B&H. They charged me when I placed the order, it didn’t come in within the seven to fourteen days that I was told that it would be shipped, I wrote to them, I went back and forth; and I got some snarky responses back from them which I put on one of my blog posts and I’ll share that in the links for the show notes. And eventually, I did receive the product. Months after I had already been charged for it and was out of pocket for money.
I’ve really stopped doing business with B&H as a customer. But I still had my affiliate relationship, whereas on my resource page at williambeem.com/resources some of the products I recommended, I had affiliate links to B&H. So if you wanted to buy them you could go there. I knew some people preferred B&H and it seemed a reasonable thing to do. Back last year in November 2015, I thought this over and decided it just wasn’t right for me. I don’t shop there, these are products that I recommend, why would I send visitors to my site to a store that I would no longer recommend? I wouldn’t shop there so I thought it wasn’t right for me to send people there to buy these products. I’ve dropped every affiliate link from B&H from my website. If there is one out there that I don’t know about and you find it, please let me know. I’ll be happy to take it out, but I think I’ve got them all. The only thing I haven’t done yet is formally contact B&H and say, “Please end our affiliate relationship.”
So I’ve got the relationship with them that we signed when we started up, but it’s not in effect or practise. You should not be able to find anything on my website that is referring you to buy something from B&H.
My recommendation these days is Amazon or Adorama. Adorama, I think, has done a wonderful job by me. I’ve never had any problems with them. I’ve never heard any complaints about Adorama. I do not have any affiliate relationship with Adorama, but I’m happy to recommend them if you want to switch from B&H to something else.
B&H of course has a response. I’m recording this on Monday and they just came out with something a few hours ago that PetaPixel is reporting on their site, and here’s what their response is:
“The allegations you’ve been hearing about are largely made by people who have never set foot in a B&H facility. We can declare outright that B&H does not have any segregated bathrooms, by race or religion, and anyone working at B&H knows that to be true. Additionally, any similar contentions are not only inaccurate, but bizarre.”
B&H also says that while many other companies are choosing outside jobs internationally, in countries where labor is cheaper, B&H has always worked to keep its jobs in New York. And I believe that that’s a true statement. I know that they have set up business relationships in other countries, but they definitely have been servicing my account, when I bought things from them, from their New York warehouse. I believe that they are working hard to try and keep things inside the New York area.
So here’s really the question: Should you shop at B&H or support those sponsored by B&H? And that’s a bit of a dilemma for people.
I’ve already made my determination that I’m not going to do business with B&H anymore. Whether you do or not is really up to you. We’ve got stories from both sides, there hasn’t been a trial yet, but I see enough of a pattern with the past lawsuits and the settlements that indicate that B&H understood and agreed to those issues. I think there’s enough smoke here that I believe there’s a fire going on inside.
So I’m not going to do business with B&H. But it brings me to the question, am I going to do business with people who also do business with B&H; if they are sponsored by B&H? I have relationships with other businesses in the photography community that are sponsored by B&H. I’m waiting and watching to see what they do. It may be premature for them to decide if they believe these allegations, they may want to wait and see if there is more evidence and they may want to wait and see what B&H says or does. There’s nothing wrong with giving a business a chance to atone for any alleged crimes or sins (however you may want to look at it). I’m past that. I’ve given up on them. I’m not going back.
But I’m watching to see what others do. If I do business with a company that’s doing business with someone that I won’t do business with, it kind of makes me wonder about the ethics integrity of the people that I’m doing business with. I know that’s a bit circular, but that’s kind of the way I feel about it.
It’s going to be an interesting next couple of months as this progresses. I would love to know what you think. Please visit williambeem.com/episode10 Leave me a note in the comments. Tell me what you think of this. Do you side with B&H, do you side with the employees that are complaining about it, or are you just going to sit back and wait and see? What do you think about others who are getting sponsorships or advertisements from B&H? What should they be doing? I really would love to hear your opinions.
In my case, as I said, I’m done. No more.
Also, if you visit the Open Letter site, to which I’ll have the link on my site, take a look at a list of signatures from photographers, video producers and others who are supporting the side of the workers. There are some good names on there of people that I know and respect. I’ve signed it myself recently. I’m not necessarily a pro union guy, but I’m definitely anti discrimination and I think that I’m going to be on the side of the folks who are working there that have filed these complaints. I just believe that there is too much smoke and too much history here to accept that B&H wasn’t aware of committing some kind of discrimination.
That’s my side. I’d love to know what you think.
Thank you for listening to the Photo Flunky Show. Show notes are available at williambeem.com/episode10. There are going to be plenty of links for this one.
You can also find a transcript of the show there for free. I’m William Beem and as always, it wouldn’t hurt you to subscribe on iTunes. It’s easy. Just go to williambeem.com/itunes to find the show. I’d love your honest rating and review.
Thanks very much for joining us on the Photo Flunky Show. See you next time.