Terms and conditions under the hammer at Sotheby’s
The US Teamsters union has asked UK unions to back their campaign against cuts to terms and conditions of art handlers at the New York headquarters of auction house Sotheby’s, which also operates in London. So UK unions – including those representing art handlers in public sector museums and art galleries – are planning to take solidarity action.
Workers at Sotheby’s New York were locked out on 1 August following a failure to agree on renegotiation of the union agreement. Employers wanted reductions in hours, wages, overtime rates, pensions. The next negotiations are on 12 September. Some London-based art handlers are believed to be replacing the locked out workers in New York, and the union believes that Sotheby’s wants to replace the highly specialised art handlers with lower paid and lower skilled support workers.
Sotheby’s is currently expanding its operations into China and the Far East, and made a gross profit of $680m last year, so it can easily maintain terms and conditions. But the Teamsters report a very anti-union spirit at the New York office, and it’s no surprise to find James Murdoch on the Board. Unions will be working across the Atlantic to make sure Sotheby’s reputation is put on the line.
Los Angeles Teamsters activist Elethia Fray, who joined a protest outside Sotheby’s while taking part in the Teamsters Women’s Conference on 26 August, said:
“We have to stick together as Teamsters. It’s a family. It’s wrong that [Sotheby’s] are taking the money for themselves and not giving it to the employees. They locked them out. That’s just wrong.”