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By Claire Voon

June 17, 2016

Two hundred-and-twenty-five Jewish leaders from congregations, universities, and cultural institutions across the nation are calling for B&H Photo Video to end management practices that allegedly violate some of their workers’ rights. On Tuesday, a group of rabbis and workers delivered a letter to a manager at the photo giant’s flagship store in Manhattan that expresses concerns over incidents of verbal abuse, discrimination, and hazardous workforce conditions. Signed largely by rabbis but also by a handful of professors and directors of institutions, the letter represents a significant gesture of solidarity with the workers who voted to unionize in hopes of improving their everyday working environments — firstly, in November, those based at the two Brooklyn warehouses, followed in February by those in the store’s basement warehouse. Contract negotiations between B&H Photo and the workers’ representative, United Steelworkers, are ongoing, but employees claim that managers still intimidate them to lower morale and test their will to unionize.

“We strongly affirm the legal right of B&H warehouse workers to unionize and improve their standard of living,” the letter reads. “We call on you to negotiate a fair contract with workers that reflects their demands for a safe, equitable workplace. In standing up for their rights, B&H warehouse workers continue in the legacy of organized labor to create a more dignified and humane economy.”

New York-based activist group Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) had decided, of its own accord, to prepare the letter last October after discussions with Laundry Workers Center (LWC), the workers’ rights training group that has helped the B&H Photo workers organize. The signatories are diverse, identifying as “Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Humanist, and secular,” according to JFREJ. Hyperallergic was not able to confirm if any were Hasidic — the sect to which B&H’s owners and many of its Jewish employees belong. According to a representative for LWC, a primary reason for the letter was to emphasize that the workers’ campaign is not anti-semitic; another was to demonstrate to the workers that they do have allies within the Jewish community.

The letter details previous claims of unfair treatment of workers that range from verbal abuse to threats of deportation, and includes references to Torah verses that describe fair employment practices. B&H Photo has previously received official government word of illegal business conduct: in February, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) slapped the company with citations and a $32,000 fine for a number of workplace hazards; three weeks later, the Department of Labor sued it for discriminating against individuals based on their gender and/or race.

Read the full piece on Hyperallergic