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The Internationalist
  March 2017

Mobilize NYC Labor to Smash Union-Busting

De Blasio Administration Complicit
in Closing of B&H Warehouses

B&H workers demonstrate outside store on February 12 protesting plans to close Brooklyn warehouses. The company move is a blatant attempt to avoid negotiating contract after workers won union representation.   (Internationalist photo)

On January 12, the owners of B&H Photo announced that the company plans to close its two warehouses in Brooklyn and shift the work to a site in New Jersey not far from Philadelphia. This is a transparent move to break the union organization of the B&H workers, who won overwhelming victories in representation elections at the warehouses in late 2015, and a few months later at the company’s mid-Manhattan store. The unionization of the largest independent supplier of photo and video equipment in the United States was a stunning gain for immigrant workers in New York. But the bosses, who bitterly opposed the union drive, have been working non-stop ever since to undo their defeat. Now over 350 union workers stand to lose their jobs.

The B&H owners’ brazen union-busting plan is an attack on all NYC labor, and all defenders of workers’ and immigrants’ rights. All-out mobilization of labor/immigrant power is needed to stop it.

Facing long-standing abusive and unsafe conditions on the job, B&H workers began organizing with the Laundry Workers Center (LWC), and turned to the United Steel Workers (USW) to win union representation. The LWC had earlier (in 2012) won union recognition and a contract, including a union hiring hall, at a Hot and Crusty bakery restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. But when the contract ran out, the owners suddenly closed the store (see “All Out to Stop Union-Busting at Bröd/Hot and Crusty!The Internationalist, January 2016). The Internationalist Group, Internationalist Clubs at the City University of New York and Class Struggle Education Workers actively supported the organizing drives at Hot and Crusty and at B&H Photo (see “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! B&H Workers in Big Win for Labor and Immigrant Rights,” The Internationalist No. 42 (January-February 2016).

CUNY students support immigrant workers at B&H Photo. Internationalist protesters call to mobilize the power of New York City labor to smash union-busting at B&H and to defeat Trump and the Democrats, February 12. (Internationalist photo)

B&H has been in contract negotiations for over a year with the USW, which represents the workers. Yet during the protracted bargaining the company dragged its feet on presenting a wage proposal. Management never mentioned the plan to move the warehouses, which obviously was in the works for months, until it dropped the bombshell at a negotiating session in mid-January. On February 13, the USW filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The B&H move is a transparent attempt to avoid negotiating a contract. But NLRB complaints typically take years to settle, and then often end up in court, while soon enough the Trump administration will staff the agency with blatantly anti-labor appointees.

The day before the USW filed its ULP, the union called a protest outside the B&H emporium on Ninth Avenue and 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan. Some 150 demonstrators, workers from both Brooklyn warehouses and the Manhattan store along with left, labor, student and community groups, marched in a cold drizzle. Workers donned t-shirts saying “I Am Union.” A USW leader said that the union would follow the company wherever it went. A spokesman for the Internationalist Group emphatically called to “bring out the unions, the Verizon workers who were on strike last year, the Teamsters who came out to defend the Muslims at JFK [airport], the 32BJ workers who clean these buildings, the hotel workers, the restaurant workers” in powerful labor solidarity.

The IG speaker pointed to a crucial aspect of this fight for union rights and workers’ jobs: the fact that the administration of Democratic mayor Bill de Blasio has been complicit in the union-busting move. On February 13, the day after the protest outside B&H, de Blasio in his State of the City speech emphasized the need for “good-paying jobs,” the “kind of jobs that allow you to afford to live in New York City.” This is also a key theme of the mayor’s reelection campaign. But the city government of New York shares direct responsibility for the looming loss of hundreds of jobs of unionized immigrant workers caused by a company that is fleeing NYC precisely in order to avoid negotiating a contract that would substantially raise their low pay!

B&H owns one of the warehouses – at 105 Evergreen Avenue – outright, which makes the union-busting nature of its plan to move warehouse operations all the more clear. At the time the move by B&H was announced, the company claimed it was not able to find a new warehouse after its lease on the building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard expired this year. DNAInfo New York (13 January) reported: “The Navy Yard facility will become a movie studio when the company leaves at the end of this year, according to David Ehrenberg, the head of the Brooklyn Navy Yard's Development Corporation.” Yet the development corporation is a “real estate developer and property manager of the Yard on behalf of its owner, the City of New York” ( So the de Blasio administration knew of B&H’s plans to leave while the company was pretending to negotiate a union contract.

B&H warehouse in Building 664 of Brooklyn Navy Yard.
(Fort Greene Patch)

But more than that, the city could have renewed the lease for Navy Yard Building 664, the larger of the two Brooklyn warehouses of B&H (the other is on Evergreen Avenue in Bushwick). A company spokesman said “We have no choice when it comes to our lease because it is ending with no ability to extend it,” and that they had worked “for several years” unsuccessfully with Empire State Development to find suitable space in NYC (Hyperallergic, 24 January). The idea that B&H couldn’t find space in New York is hardly believable, since the proprietor, Herman Schreiber, owns dozens of other properties in the city. But why exactly couldn’t B&H simply renew its lease at the Navy Yard?

The answer is that the de Blasio administration wants to turn the Navy Yard into “Hollywood on the East River” amid an unprecedented boom of TV production in the city. The prime tenant in the industrial park is Steiner Studios, with the largest stage east of Los Angeles, numerous sound stages and more than 5 acres of backlot space. Its main facility is right next to the windowless hulk of Building 664 where B&H immigrant workers toil. Four years ago, Steiner was already expanding around B&H. Crain’s New York (20 October 2013) reported: “When the company vacates its current space in Building 664, Steiner Studios, the yard’s largest employer, will expand into the building with around 300 of its own employees.”

NYC mayor Bill de Blasio poses with city motion pictures chief Cynthia López and studio owner Doug Steiner, April 2014.
(Ed Lederman/Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

So the reality is that the city government under Democrat de Blasio is pushing the B&H warehouses out of their present location. When the mayor named Cynthia López New York City’s “film czarina” he did so at Steiner Studios, where they posed with Bill’s pal, studio owner Doug Steiner. At the ceremony López praised Steiner for “revitalizing” the area. And while de Blasio has criticized tax breaks for other industries, he is a fervent backer of such giveaways to the film industry, which is the main reason the number of TV shows shot in NYC quadrupled over a decade, and the number of films increased by a factor of 10. The industry has showed its appreciation by making contributions to de Blasio’s favorite causes.

Currently de Blasio is under investigation by state and federal prosecutors over the financing of his 2013 election campaign. The owners of Broadway Stages said they were asked for donations to the mayor’s Campaign for One New York (“The Cash Envelope, Please: Bill Put $queeze on Showbiz,” Daily News, 27 February). Steiner is also a generous donor. A selling point was de Blasio’s $2.5 billion plan to build a streetcar line extending from Bay Ridge to Astoria. As City Hall lined up developers to back the BQX line, “Steiner Studios, a movie lot near a potential trolley stop at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Fort Greene, ponied up $5,000” for the Campaign for One New York, reported the Daily News (12 December 2016).

Steiner Studios, the largest TV production facility on the East Coast, is pushing out B&H, whose warehouse in Building 664 is just behind the studio. City officials have been pushing the expansion of Steiner.  (Steiner Studios)

At the same time, while de Blasio is tight with the TV industry, he has been cultivating political alliances with various constituencies. Among his key allies are the followers of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the Satmar Jewish Rebbe of Kiryas Joel, the Orthodox village in upstate Orange County. Millionaire B&H owner Schreiber and hundreds of store employees are members of the “Aaroni” sect, which is also dominant in Boro Park, Brooklyn. Aaroni Satmar political operatives boast that their bloc of 7,500 votes won de Blasio the Democratic nomination in 2013. Now the FBI is putting the squeeze on top Aaroni political fundraisers, including Isaac Sofer, Moishe Indig and Rabbi David Niederman, to get dirt on the mayor, but no one’s talking. 

Bill de Blasio poses as a “progressive.” His reelection drive kicked off with endorsements from key unions including the United Federation of Teachers, AFSCME District Council 37 and SEIU Local 32BJ. In reality he’s a straight Clinton/Obama Democrat, who would clearly be, as we put it in 2013, nothing more than “Bloomberg Lite,” a lower-key continuation of the policies of the Republican billionaire mayor. In the political horse-trading of Democratic Party politics, de Blasio owes the Satmar power brokers. Thus Rabbi Niederman, head of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, is a mayoral appointee to the Navy Yard Development Corporation board where he is in a position to look out for the interests of B&H.

While B&H is one of the biggest Hasidic-owned companies in New York, in fighting wage gouging, dangerous working conditions, abusive management practices and discrimination – including separate bathrooms for whites – the immigrant workers have emphasized that they are waging a labor, not a religious or ethnic, struggle. Union militants are vigilant against any hint of anti-Semitism. Jews for Economic and Racial Justice has been an important ally throughout the battle. At the February 12 rally, a JFREJ spokeswoman reported that 225 rabbis had signed a letter calling on B&H to negotiate in good faith with the union. The CUNY Internationalist Clubs initiated the chant that has been widely picked up over the recent period, “Jew and Arab, black and white, workers of the world, unite!”

Democrats Bill de Blasio, the phony “friend of labor,” and Hillary Clinton, the faux friend of women, along with deporter-in-chief Barack Obama, are in fact representatives and defenders of capital. While Clinton and Obama hobnob with the Wall Street fat cats, de Blasio attends to the retail-level wheeling and dealing of bourgeois politics. He allies with entertainment moguls and real-estate barons like Bruce Ratner, who promised thousands of apartments for low-income tenants (yet to be built) in exchange for tearing down homes to make way for the Barclays Center sports/entertainment arena. It’s no surprise, then, that despite his talk of good jobs and affordable housing, Democrat de Blasio presides over the elimination of hundreds of immigrant workers’ jobs.

The fight for union jobs at B&H must be a class struggle to win. That means mobilizing the powerhouses of NYC labor in defense of immigrant workers. On February 16, while restaurant and shop owners shut down for a “Day Without Immigrants,” B&H workers organized a collective stay-away action to protest against raids and deportations. Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas (TIC – Class Struggle International Workers), including workers at B&H, calls on NYC unions to bring out the ranks and take the battle to City Hall and Wall Street. We have the power to smash the union-busting attack, but it will not be accomplished with paper resolutions and having a few bureaucrats and staffers show up. Surround B&H with thousands of workers and the bosses will get the message.

Internationalist contingent marches with B&H workers against union-busting, February 12.  (Internationalist photo)

Above all, as Karl Marx insisted a century and a half ago, every genuine class struggle is a political struggle. We must break the stranglehold of the Democratic Party which has led to the decimation of the unions in this country. We join with the militant Painters Union in Portland in calling to build a class-struggle workers party fighting to replace the dictatorship of capital with the liberating rule of the working class championing all the oppressed. Stop the B&H bosses’ job-killing, union-busting plan! ¡Unión, fuerza, solidaridad! – Union, power, solidarity!