Some unemployed B&H Photo Video employees fear that they have recently lost their jobs forever – and claim that this is because they have reported dangerous working conditions during the coronavirus outbreak.
After complaining about the company’s pandemic work back in March – including crowded internal prayer services for its ultra-religious Jewish workers – some workers noticed something resembling advertisements for their jobs online. They suspect that this is a situation they would not be in if they were part of the company’s inner circle of Hasidic Jewish officials, who they say receive special treatment.
“They definitely used COVID as a cover to eliminate some of us,”
Wagner, a professional photographer who worked as the author of the description of products for BiH, says he believes he was not invited to work after making a fuss in March about the daily prayer services held at the company’s lunch rooms.
“I told HR that people should not gather,” Wagner said, adding that BiH later announced in a newsletter that two workers who attended the prayers had died from the virus in late March.
Wagner has also repeatedly pressured B&H for information after learning that a colleague on the other floor had contracted the virus, he said. “I believe they took revenge on me, that I just asked if I was in close contact with anyone with COVID.”
William Cannon, also a content writer in BiH, says he believes he is not being returned because he asked permission to work from home in March. “I said [HR] that I don’t feel safe in the office, leaving in the crowded elevators and working so close to others, “said Cannon.
Cannon, who is diabetic, was also concerned about the prayer services because they were held in the same rooms where he kept his insulin, which must be stored in the refrigerator. “There were 60 people crowded there and I would have to cross them to get to the fridge,” he said. “I was uncomfortable.”
B&H told Cannon to use his paid free time until he drew up a work plan from home, which he did about a week later. “B&H was too slow to take the pandemic seriously,” he said. “I took all my PTO days because they didn’t have a plan.”
Cannon and Wagner say they were taken out along with about 400 other workers – about 20 percent of B&H staff – on April 27. The company has notified workers by email that they will be paid for 2.5 days and will receive health benefits by May 31st.
Cannon has been unable to pay for his insulin medication since June and is forced to share insulin with his uncle with diabetes, with whom he lives.
Then in August, after months of no communication from the company, Cannon saw that Indeed.com published a post about a mobile technology writer for B&H, which he did for the company. The publication also calls for gaming experience, which Cannon says his manager knows he owns.
“I accepted this as their way of getting rid of people they didn’t want,” he said of the job posting. “It was so sudden, with no follow-up. It seemed like a way to cut people off without telling them they were laid off. “
Wagner, meanwhile, saw two ads for his job as a photo writer on the company’s website, most recently on October 15.
B&H did not tell the men in any way their plans and they did not ask, but the megastore reopened on July 1.
Following his dismissal, Wagner sent an email to his BiH managers to ask what percentage of laid-off employees were Hasids, which the company declined to specify. Wagner, who is a Jew but not a Hasidic, then said he had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Commission, claiming that BiH was discriminating against non-Hasidic officials.
Cannon, an African-American, said he was also considering filing a discrimination complaint against BiH.
Wagner declined to share a copy of his complaint with The Post, but shared emails with the agency indicating that he had filed one.
B&H, which Blimie and Herman Schreiber opened in 1973, declined to comment on the job lists or Wagner’s complaint of discrimination, except that it “welcomes the EEOC’s findings”.
“B&H was one of the last retailers to lay off its employees,” the company’s chief marketing officer Jeff Gerstel said in a statement to The Post.
“We are proud to bring excited employees back to work every week as we navigate these challenging times. We cannot answer individual questions from employees. “
Wagner claims that B&H’s Hasidic Jewish employees receive special privileges, including what he considers company-sponsored shuttle buses to help them travel to and from work.
The shuttles, which cost employees $ 2.75 per trip, are not offered to non-Hasidic employees, he said.
B&H declined to comment on its role in providing the buses, but a person close to the company noted that the dealer was named the 14th best employer in New York for 2020 by Forbes in August.
The popular retailer was sued twice by the federal government for discriminatory practices, most recently in 2016, when the Department of Labor accused him of hiring only Spaniards for initial positions in his former Brooklyn Navy warehouse and then subjecting them to harassment and unsanitary conditions, including non-functioning bathrooms, which were separate from those used by non-Hispanic workers at the facility. The lawsuit also accused the company of not hiring women, blacks and Asian workers at the facility in Brooklyn, which has since moved to New Jersey.
The family business “categorically denied” the 2016 allegations, but paid $ 3.22 million to settle the case and “avoid litigation,” it said at the time.
Legal experts like Carolyn Richmond say they have been warning employers since April to take precautions not to discriminate against hiring workers who are ridiculous.
“The question arises as to why the employer does not return an employee who was fired simply because of COVID restrictions and not because of the performance of the job,” said Richmond, chairman of the hospitality group at Fox Rothschild LLP. “It is certainly suspicious to replace these workers with new employees.”