Teamsters ratify new contract with Sotheby’s, ending 10-month lockout

NEW YORK (PAI)–The 42 Teamsters who work as art handlers for the famed Sotheby’s auction house in Manhattan overwhelmingly ratified a new 3-year contract with the firm on May 31, ending the company’s 10-month lockout.

The lockout drew widespread notice when Occupy New York, at the height of its mass protests over Wall Street greed and its campaign for the 99%, mobilized to help the Teamsters too. Occupy also later rallied to other unions’ aid, including in the long-running struggle between the Communications Workers and Verizon.

Sotheby’s locked out the 42 workers last July when they refused to accept its contract offer, which would have destroyed the union, Local 814 spokesman Julian Tysh said then. “Sotheby’s – which grossed $680 million in 2010, its second-most profitable year ever – wants to eliminate the union by demanding all future hires be low-wage temporary workers with no benefits and no collective bargaining rights,” he added.

But the new contract keeps the jobs as union jobs, Local 814 President Jason Ide said. There will be no low-wage temps. It also raises wages 1% a year, with a new starting salary of $18.50 an hour, and maintains current benefits.

“The most important thing is these guys are going back to work,” Ide said. “They love being art handlers. They got into this line of work because they care about art and taking care of it.”

Negotiations became unstuck a month ago after Sotheby’s switched attorneys, hiring the labor lawyer who negotiated the recent pact for the National Football League with its players union. Before that, Sotheby’s employed Jackson Lewis, one of the nation’s most-notorious anti-union firms with a “take it or leave it” attitude, Ide said.

Photo: Union members planning a demonstration outside Sotheby’s auction house, Oct. 18, 2011, in New York. John Minchillo/AP



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.