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Follow up to B&H - Workers Unionize

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Since Mr. Jones brought it up - 

As a follow-up story to B&H Photo Video and Worker Abuses - they have unionized.  

And this is partly because of people like you and me:

They have unionized because they voted to do so last November. The vote was conducted under the supervision of the NLRB whcih found no evidence of any interference up to or during the vote by any B&H employee.

I'm sure you understand and appreciate that we value our company-employee relationship as much as our company-customer relationship. We cannot have one without the other. They are intertwined and both must be in balance for us to continue our uninterrupted 40+ year history of success. I am only sorry you were exposed to an innuendo-filled campaign of inaccuracy on the part of those who wished to "persuade" our employees the union is in their best interest and who are willing to misrepresent facts about our employees and their work conditions to unsuspecting customers like yourself.

Our workers have the right to vote on whether or not a union will represent them. We would not and did not do anything to impede their right to this vote which was held during November.

Regarding the allegations of health and safety conditions, perhaps this will offer a different perspective: http://on.fb.me/1N5rsWI

There is no asbestos, no lung-searing clouds of dust, no flakes of fiberglass peeling off the ceiling. The restrooms are as clean as those in my house. There are no "substandard conditions." The employees are not, as has been widely reported, “undocumented.” Our warehouses have been inspected by OSHA several times recently, each unannounced and unscheduled. We received no fines or warnings or recommendations to make any changes at all. Other than take-home pay, every B&H employee, including the warehouse workers, me and my boss, get the EXACT same benefits.

There was a fire near, not in, our warehouse. At the time the NYFD specifically asked us NOT to evacuate our workers for two reasons – there was no need to do so as there was no danger at all from smoke or fire, and the evacuation of several hundred workers into a relatively small and confined space would have severely impeded the NYFD’s ability to deal with the situation safely, effectively and efficiently. What you read was hyperbole and fiction designed to cast negative aspersions on us.

 

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They have unionized because they voted to do so last November. The vote was conducted under the supervision of the NLRB whcih found no evidence of any interference up to or during the vote by any B&H employee.

I'm sure you understand and appreciate that we value our company-employee relationship as much as our company-customer relationship. We cannot have one without the other. They are intertwined and both must be in balance for us to continue our uninterrupted 40+ year history of success. I am only sorry you were exposed to an innuendo-filled campaign of inaccuracy on the part of those who wished to "persuade" our employees the union is in their best interest and who are willing to misrepresent facts about our employees and their work conditions to unsuspecting customers like yourself.

Our workers have the right to vote on whether or not a union will represent them. We would not and did not do anything to impede their right to this vote which was held during November.

Regarding the allegations of health and safety conditions, perhaps this will offer a different perspective: http://on.fb.me/1N5rsWI

There is no asbestos, no lung-searing clouds of dust, no flakes of fiberglass peeling off the ceiling. The restrooms are as clean as those in my house. There are no "substandard conditions." The employees are not, as has been widely reported, “undocumented.” Our warehouses have been inspected by OSHA several times recently, each unannounced and unscheduled. We received no fines or warnings or recommendations to make any changes at all. Other than take-home pay, every B&H employee, including the warehouse workers, me and my boss, get the EXACT same benefits.

There was a fire near, not in, our warehouse. At the time the NYFD specifically asked us NOT to evacuate our workers for two reasons – there was no need to do so as there was no danger at all from smoke or fire, and the evacuation of several hundred workers into a relatively small and confined space would have severely impeded the NYFD’s ability to deal with the situation safely, effectively and efficiently. What you read was hyperbole and fiction designed to cast negative aspersions on us.

 

Well said, Henry, also just found out you are head of PR at the audio department, which I love there.  So your opinion on civil and legal matters related to B&H is probably not as inclined to the data and official stance of the company, which is fine - all of this is probably private information as of now.  I know how much companies hate unions as well.  And how unions can play really dirty.  But if the NYTimes and Al Jezera both run stories on it, I think there must be some validity to the claims.

Plus that B&H in 2007 paid a $4.3 million dollar settlement to unfair wage page to Latino employees, again scales me towards believing the first-hand accounts of the workers and their lawyers.

Also it's possible with your photos that yes it does look really clean - cleaner than the studio I work above - the clean up was done after complaints and hints of unionization.  

And lastly, I wonder, why is employees unionizing ever a bad thing?  Except to the corporation?

Well finally, seems like according to the NYTimes, there were two seperate instances of workers signing documentation in English they couldn't read that signed away their rights to medical care reembursement.

 

NYTIMES

Martin Hernandez was moving heavy boxes of merchandise at a Brooklyn warehouse belonging to the electronics superstore B&H Photo Video in late August, he said, when he felt a sudden stab of pain in his left leg.

“I felt my knee crack, and I just couldn’t get up,” he said on Tuesday, through a Spanish-English interpreter. “The pain was so intense, I couldn’t feel my foot.”

Mr. Hernandez, 48, said he had been taken by ambulance to the Brooklyn Hospital Center. He eventually learned he had a damaged ligament, and has not worked or received a paycheck since the injury. He said his meager savings were nearly exhausted.

 

Or of these two employees given documents to sign in English that said B&H was not responsible for their on-site Health issue:

Ms. Mazzocchi also dropped off a letter addressed to Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Goldstein, asking that they act on complaints that employees had been subject to discrimination because they are Hispanic, had been pressured by managers to sign English-language forms releasing the company from medical claims and had been forced to work long hours in warehouses where emergency exits were blocked and noxious dust appeared to cause rashes and nosebleeds. She said that if she and other lawyers did not receive a favorable reply by Oct. 20, they would file 180 separate claims with the E.E.O.C.

Mahoma Lopez, a co-director of the Laundry Workers Center, an advocacy group that works mainly with low-income immigrant workers, said they had begun meeting last year with B&H warehouse employees. The center’s organizers held workshops in which they instructed workers about their legal rights, he said, and explained that they would have more strength working together than they would as individuals. Eventually, Mr. Lopez said, the center helped the warehouse employees contact the Steelworkers union.

One of the workers who said he had wanted to be represented by United Steelworkers was Mario Baten, 29, who said he had worked for B&H for six years but had temporarily lost his job in 2010 after he collapsed at work. Mr. Baten, who said he had suffered for years from cancer, said through a Spanish-English interpreter he had awoken in a hospital and received documents that had been delivered to him by a B&H manager.

“He sent papers in English that I had to sign,” he said. “I didn’t know what they were saying.”

In the main B&H warehouse located in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, the walls and ceilings are insulated with fiberglass that fills the air and flecks off onto the worker’s skin, causing rashes, respiration problems and daily nosebleeds, employees say. Inside a second warehouse, on Evergreen Avenue in Brooklyn, employees say they have worked amid asbestos-insulated tubing. “They would tell us to clean the tubes,” recalled maintenance worker Miguel Angel Muñoz Meneses, “but nobody wanted to touch them.”

The men, many of whom are undocumented, testify of suffering from kidney stones, dizziness and fainting after being denied access to water or bathroom breaks. They say there is often a lack of basic safety equipment. “If we ask for gloves, they answer that they do not have gloves, because gloves are too expensive,” said Isaias Rojas, a B&H employee.

One man reported he was badly cut while lifting boxes, and the managers refused to call an ambulance, instead advising him to simply wait until the bleeding stopped. Another said a manager threw hot water on him and slapped his face. Others report those who complain are fired or threatened with deportation.

“They treat us as if we were animals,” Florencio Salgado said. “We are involved in this because we are tired of being abused.”

For many of the men, the most egregious offense occurred on Sept. 5, 2014, when two tractor trailers parked adjacent to the Navy Yard warehouse burst into flamessending clouds of black smoke into the shipping and receiving section as the workers were inside.

Silverio Cano Alberto, who has worked for B&H for seven years, said he was on the second floor as the flames licked the outside of the warehouse.

“There was smoke and yelling and no one, including the manager, paid any attention,” he said. “Finally, they told us we could leave, but we each had to pass through the metal detectors, which took about a half hour. When I got outside, the parking lot was filled with firemen and police. Imagine — if the fire had spread, we would never have all made it out.”

Stephanie Luce, a professor of labor studies at the Murphy Institute at the City University of New York, said that, if verified, these allegations would constitute violations of the “highest level of basic rights.”

 
 
were they verified?  is there a civil suit pending?  or was it settled privately?
 
Florencio Salgado, 37. Salgado has been employed in the B&H warehouse for 10 years, working long hours to support his parents in Mexico. “They are exploiting us," he said. "They are 'juicing us' like a fruit. Once they take all the juice from us then we will be thrown away because we are going to be good for nothing.”Jonah Markowitz

“These are very serious,” Luce said. “That's one of the main things that happening in places like Bangladesh, where there have been fires and buildings have collapsed, and workers can't escape.”

B&H declined to comment on any of the specific allegations, including the handling of the 2014 fire.

 

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Looking at some of those stories you have presented they appear to have been made up.

A company storing and shipping camera equipment is not going to be generating toxic dust. And they are not going to be wanting toxic dust falling all over their very expensive merchandise either. Where did this "asbestos" go to? It doesn't just disappear, and since site has been inspected multiple times, apparently without incident, it was probably never there to start with.

For an example (excuse the lack of proper quotes, since the editing function on the board is messed up), in one of the quotes you talk about a worker who "temporarily" lost his job after collapsing on the job. It doesn't sound like his medical condition had anything to do with his job (since he says he had cancer). If he temporarily lost his job, it means he got it back again once he was fit to resume work. My guess is that his non work related illness is what caused him to collapse, and probably prevented him from working for some time. Once his sick days ran out he would no longer be paid. That's how it works pretty much everywhere else if you have a non-work related illness, so I imagine that is how it worked there.

Regarding the fire, no doubt the local fire department would have been on the scene and would have been making decisions regarding evacuation, not management.

If there were significant problems the OHSA would have found them.

If there were undocumented workers present, unionization would push them out the door pretty promptly, so I find that claim dubious.

I think there is a whole lot of rhetoric going on, probably being pushed by individuals or parties with a vested interest in unionization.

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I'm not an expert in union/company relationships or tactics, but you have a company that already settled a $5 million dollar lawsuit less than 10 years ago about unfair labor practices.  That's a pretty large sum of money.

And you have statements, probably under oath from it seems like 2-5 different people.  And this is covered in the Times.  They have a lot of fact checkers.  They are used to investigative journalism.

If the workers are lying, that is libel.  B&H's professional reputation has been hurt by these articles.  

Yes, it's possible the worker's lied, but I just don't see why they would?  I mean, how easy is it for these types of Latino laborers, especially those who don't speak English, to find work?

I live in Bushwick - I see a bunch of homeless and poor Latino men everywhere - out of work.

My gut puts me on the side of the worker, especially after reading a Village Voice article years ago linking  a company named B&H to a medical scam in South Brooklyn, where they supposived supplied Russian medical helper to the elderly, but was later found out to not be true.

Maybe that's a different B&H.

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I'm not an expert in union/company relationships or tactics, but you have a company that already settled a $5 million dollar lawsuit less than 10 years ago about unfair labor practices.  That's a pretty large sum of money.

And you have statements, probably under oath from it seems like 2-5 different people.  And this is covered in the Times.  They have a lot of fact checkers.  They are used to investigative journalism.

If the workers are lying, that is libel.  B&H's professional reputation has been hurt by these articles.  

Yes, it's possible the worker's lied, but I just don't see why they would?  I mean, how easy is it for these types of Latino laborers, especially those who don't speak English, to find work?

I live in Bushwick - I see a bunch of homeless and poor Latino men everywhere - out of work.

My gut puts me on the side of the worker, especially after reading a Village Voice article years ago linking  a company named B&H to a medical scam in South Brooklyn, where they supposived supplied Russian medical helper to the elderly, but was later found out to not be true.

Maybe that's a different B&H.

No offense, Ed, but if you aren't an expert in these matters, perhaps you shouldn't be passing judgment. Posting an opinion (what your gut tells you, as you put it) as fact is both unfair and dangerous. I don't doubt your sincerity at all and applaud you for the passion, but I'd hold back if I were you. Hit pieces like this aren't too different than posting publicly that you suspect someone's gay because he kind of looks gay to you.

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And lastly, I wonder, why is employees unionizing ever a bad thing?  Except to the corporation?

I grew up in Detroit, where the unions began as a good thing but eventually became huge and bloated and were cesspools of waste, mixed with valid employee representation; they also became another profit center for organized crime and eventually a parasite on society.

I had friends who worked for the big three, and if you had no education, it was considered the holy grail - get unionized, get the benefits, and then learn the ropes of how to do as little work as possible. (Read "RivetHead", an entertaining but depressing memoir from an 80's era GM line worker). It was a big part of why Japan roared into the auto business like it did - Detroit's QC was abysmal and the market came to expect it as part of the deal.

I'm sure for smaller businesses there is much more control, and we live in an age where jobs are more scarce and most people know they have to perform well. But the Northern US unions that reached their heyday just as the oil crises and economic decline hit (and made huge industrial and service businesses far more vulnerable to economic decline) gave a bad name to unions; I had a relative with about 20 employees in an industrial setting - he said "the day they unionize is the day I retire!" But he also knew that decent pay and benefits and a good working environment was a key to employee retention. 

In the US today, where corporate interests and near-oligarchy are where the power for making policy and laws is coming from, unions are a threat to the "winner take all" maximizing of profits and minimizing of pay and benefits to all but the top tier, so they get labeled "socialism" and the failures of unions in the past are constantly brought up. We're probably in an age where unions on a major level could so some serious good; but I can't see it happening with all the money that controls the process. 

I'm not really worried about terrorism, gay marriage, or the decline of religion in the US; I'm wondering what our country looks like at the natural end of those income-inequality charts. Nothing has stopped the direction those lines are going yet. 

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Well said, Henry, also just found out you are head of PR at the audio department, which I love there.  So your opinion on civil and legal matters related to B&H is probably not as inclined to the data and official stance of the company, which is fine - all of this is probably private information as of now.  I know how much companies hate unions as well.  And how unions can play really dirty.  But if the NYTimes and Al Jezera both run stories on it, I think there must be some validity to the claims.

I am not head of PR in any department. I am not head of PR at all. I have almost nothing to do with PR. I am not now nor have I ever been part of the audio department. This is ludicrously inaccurate.

I already commented on the fire, saying this:
There was a fire near, not in, our warehouse. At the time the NYFD specifically asked us NOT to evacuate our workers for two reasons – there was no need to do so as there was no danger at all from smoke or fire, and the evacuation of several hundred workers into a relatively small and confined space would have severely impeded the NYFD’s ability to deal with the situation safely, effectively and efficiently.

I also commented on the ridiculously false allegations about fiberglass and asbestos. There was none; there is none. Had there ever been any our managers and supervisors would have been exposed to the same conditions as our workers. As "tugela" was kind enough to note, a warehouse full of electronics, cameras and lenses etc is the last place any retailer would want fiberglass and asbestos.

You quoted a report which said, "The men, many of whom are undocumented..." A lie, plain and simple. We do everything the law requires to document our employees. Is it possible a clever employee who is or knows a master forger could fool us? I suppose. But, we are in compliance with all local, state and federal laws and regulations regarding soliciting, hiring and employing our workers. To the best of our knowledge, none is undocumented.

You wrote, "I'm not an expert in union/company relationships..." Indeed. When we settled the EEOC matter, the EEOC said this:

“We commend B & H for working cooperatively with us to resolve this matter without protracted litigation,” said EEOC New York Trial Attorney Lou Graziano. “We encourage other employers to follow B & H’s example of resolving discrimination cases expeditiously and in good faith.”

There is a reason we were given this unsolicited praise. Here's what happened, briefly. We were advised we were not in compliance with one or more EEOC rules. We were also advised it was possible a current or former employee could file a complaint and if so the EEOC wanted to be sure money was set aside to cover any judgement. We funded that, hence the $4.3 million. It went into what was in effect an escrow account. We did so willingly and voluntarily in part because doing so avoided protracted litigation, which might have been an unnecessary expense.

You wrote, "Yes, it's possible the worker's lied, but I just don't see why they would?" Because the union and those in league with the union wanted and needed a victory and were willing to be elastic with facts to get it. We are not the only NYC retailer in our industry to be treated this way:

http://www.nj.com/union/index.ssf/2015/02/workers_at_elizabeth_warehouse_claim_they_were_fir.html
Ultimately the Adorama workers’ vote went against the union so apparently they redoubled their efforts to avoid a second embarrassing failure.

Sekhar said, "Posting an opinion (what your gut tells you, as you put it) as fact is both unfair and dangerous." No danger from me, certainly but repeating untrue, unsubstantiated, unverified, unverifiable allegations like those you quoted is unfair and unfortunate.

FWIW the union vote was Nov 4th.

PS The medical scam. Wasn't us. Maybe these guys? :-)

bait (Small).jpg

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I'm sure for smaller businesses there is much more control, and we live in an age where jobs are more scarce and most people know they have to perform well.

We also live in an age where brand new billion dollar industries are created in months, not decades. Where information has never been more accessible, plentiful, or instantly available. Where people like me with absolutely no formal film, marketing, or business education can start a production company that is responsible for the well-being of not only myself but others.

There will be no return to the glory days of 1950s-era manufacturing and middle class single income union jobs. They're gone, that culture exists only in memories, and they're never coming back.

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We also live in an age where brand new billion dollar industries are created in months, not decades. Where information has never been more accessible, plentiful, or instantly available. Where people like me with absolutely no formal film, marketing, or business education can start a production company that is responsible for the well-being of not only myself but others.

There will be no return to the glory days of 1950s-era manufacturing and middle class single income union jobs. They're gone, that culture exists only in memories, and they're never coming back.

If I had to wager, I'd put my money on that. But even our service economy has businesses with tens of thousands of employees; look at Wal Mart's history of fighting unions, yet they seem to be a prime case where a union could be meaningful. Will it happen? Who knows. But we're talking unionizing pretty crappy, low-pay jobs, not middle-class-creating industries. My kids get it - work hard, avoid debt, live simply and portably. They know how tough it will be to have a good career. Well, my oldest is a paramedic and she may end up with a free education to become an RN… one of the last middle class career paths it seems. My son the animator? He's getting used to a suitcase and a laptop!

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You're right - I should be careful what I say about B&H Photo video, but it's okay for you guys to disregard several people's statements that made it in NYTimes because you don't trust the unions.

But you trust B&H?  You trust the big corporations?  Like Walmart?  They hate unions!  

Unions are the only reason I could make a decent living doing non-union work.

Have you ever tried to work in the photo world without unions?  How much does the photographer get paid - $50k a day, when his crew makes like, $600 a day?

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No. It is about not defaming or slandering or prematurely judging until due process has been done and/or not being dogmatic if you are not an intimate part of the due process. What Henry should have proved to you is that you do not know all the angles. How could you critically judge a movie if you hadn't seen the whole thing? That wouldn't be a fair critique to the film or filmmakers. Hastily casting judgment without being a true unbiased investigator first puts you in the same corrupt category as those you are pointing your finger at. How do you not see this?

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In another thread, you admit and encourage documentarians to use storytelling in their work, but in this instance you take articles written by The New York Times and Al-Jazeera at face value. You have bought into this notion that big business and law enforcement are the "bad guys" and the common man are the "good guys," that's cute and all, but the world is a little more complicated than that.

And if it wasn't for the photographers that make 50k a day, there wouldn't be $600 a day jobs for his/her crew... Which is an AMAZING days pay by the way. 

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You're right - I should be careful what I say about B&H Photo video, but it's okay for you guys to disregard several people's statements that made it in NYTimes because you don't trust the unions.

But you trust B&H?  You trust the big corporations?  Like Walmart?  They hate unions!  

Unions are the only reason I could make a decent living doing non-union work.

Have you ever tried to work in the photo world without unions?  How much does the photographer get paid - $50k a day, when his crew makes like, $600 a day?

I  dont trust the NYTimes either. Or any major media outlet in America for that matter. 

I think most crew members would be pretty happy with $600 a day. I would be. 

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Maybe we should listen to both sides of the story and make our own minds up without changing our minds about the people giving each side... or demonising one person or the other. Maybe it's possible to separate a standpoint from the person making it, you know, like in the old days before the internet.

Unions - in the UK politically these are quite militant. They're so powerful they have a big sway actually in who the Labour party (our Democrats) elect as leader. For two successive leaders they have elected completely unelectable people who they think can look after the interests of the unions, even though they're completely out of touch with the voters and have no chance of putting the party into government. I think union leaders have a lot to answer for.

In the case of B&H I don't know enough about the politics of it all to comment... I just want the best for their workers and for the company to treat them fairly.

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I think the problem is that we trust people at the top and corporations, because they seem to have our best interests at heart.  They run the world.  They control the politicians.  The media, the police, and advertising.

They control me, and many I know.  Many filmmakers.  They pay our bills.  They keep us alive.

There are no national endowments for the arts. There are other jobs to do, but only commercial work provides enough to be able to take off for months in a year, if need be.

So we all side with the corporations.

Just as you guys side with the photographers making 50k a year.  What I meant by the lighting/camera assistants in photography is that they are really the directors of photography - they control the lighting.  They order the gear, they make the decisions.  The photographer is more a director and a camera operator.  He makes 50k, they make $600 a day.  Compared to film, where the DP on a big commercial will make 4-5k a day.

The union established this, and the rules on set.  Meals after 5 hours.  Overtime after 8 or 10 at time and a half, double time after 12.  Turnaround time 12 hours.  These are all rules to keep crews safe and for the longevitiy of people working in film.  Photography doesn't have these standards.  

There is a reason for unions.

Sure, some can be corrupt - all groups of people can be corrupt.

Some good, some bad. But they started because worker's were getting abused.  They didn't come out of nowhere cause people are greedy.  I pay a lot to be in the union, because I know one day I'll break my back or get old and need it.

 

Now in terms of my character, and my stances on things - I'm not perfect.  I faulter.  I change my mind.  But I won't change my mind, on what Andrew said, workers need to be protected, especially if they don't speak English, which seems to be the case in B&H factory workers.  Maybe that's not true.  B&H already has that lawsuit of $5 million dollars in a settlement they paid out to workers.  So I'm going to have a hunch that probably B&H is hiding something.  

Even though they do have incredible customer service and great people on the floor and everyone I know from there has been great.  Especially my friends in the lighting department.    

Next up you guys are going to defend the horrible working conditions on Reverent because in the end, it made a great film!

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-leonardo-dicaprios-revenant-shoot-810290

 

 

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I really think the glaring omission from your argument is capitalism vs. socialism. To me, it seems you are teetering the line?

And I'm sorry, but in another recent post you proclaim the criminal justice system is broken in this country, but you refuse to admit your part in the malfunction.

In the US, a person, or party, is innocent until proven guilty, but in the court of public opinion, you tend to find people guilty for your innate desire to fight for the "little man," which is just as damaging as authority figures abusing their power and to be honest... Very condescending to the little man. 

Words matter and there is enough traffic on this site to influence people's opinions and you haphazardly, prematurely cast dispersions and guilt without any inside knowledge of the facts. You use hearsay and articles from biased 3rd parties and media outlets that have as much of an agenda as the direct parties involved. 

If the workers are happy with their unionization, then I am happy for the workers. If B&H can continue to serve their customers with low prices and superior customer service, then I am happy for both B&H and their customers. 

 

The End

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