Practical solidarity for a world that puts people first

Sotheby’s: Bad for art?

Last year, art auctioneers Sotheby’s sales increased by 74% to more than £3 billion. And recently, the firm reported its most profitable quarter in its 267 year history.

But despite the record profits and growth, Sotheby’s in New York is refusing to negotiate fair working conditions with its art handlers – the people who care for and transport the extremely valuable items they auction.

Instead of recognising and rewarding the contribution these workers have made to the company’s success, Sotheby’s look to be trying to make a quick buck on their staffing bill by cutting corners in the art handling department.

The company has presented the workers with new contract terms including shorter hours, lower pay, no pensions, and some skilled art handling staff being replaced by unskilled and cheaper temps.

The workers (members of the US Teamsters union) refused the new terms, but rather than negotiate, Sotheby’s decided to lock out all their art handlers, without pay, and outsourced all the jobs to unskilled temps.

Meanwhile, Sotheby’s rewarded its New York based CEO, William Ruprecht, by doubling his annual salary to almost $6 million.

Is Sotheby’s putting irreplaceable and fragile pieces of art at risk? Auctioneers may sell the art, but art handlers are responsible for the transportation, preparation and display of each piece.

Some of the locked out art handlers have more than 40 years of experience protecting art. Replacing these individuals with temporary workers is a risk not worth the comparatively small savings this unfair move will make.

The Teamsters at Sotheby’s (Local 814) have asked for help from the UK, as the company was founded here, and London remains a key market for them.

Please join us in writing to Melanie Clore, Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, and The Hon James Stourton, Sotheby’s UK Chairman, asking them to put pressure on Sotheby’s New York to negotiate a fair new contract with the locked out workers. The company need to:

  • End the unfair lockout
  • Drop demands to replace professional art handlers with untrained temps
  • Remove the insistence on severe pension and pay cuts, despite record profits

ACTION CLOSED: The dispute has been settled between the art handlers and Sotheby’s. See update.

30 Sep 11

13 Responses to Sotheby’s: Bad for art?

  1. jane smith
    Oct 1st 2011, 8:34 am

    don’t put profits before people

  2. Rosemary Sargent
    Oct 1st 2011, 1:33 pm

    If this is true, it’s a disgrace to all honest, loyal staff who take pride in their work and commitment. It really shows how little the bosses know of what the “little man” does. It’s a kick in the teeth to any hard working person to be locked out of their place of work when wanting to negoiate a decent wage, especially after being told about cuts to their conditions. It’s a double insult for the CEO to receive such a sinful amount of money for doing his job that he’s supposed to be doing!
    This should not be allowed to happen, I hope that management can see sense. If one piece of artwork is damaged by the unskillful replacements, I bet that money would have covered part if not all of the costs that these workers should have received!

  3. John
    Oct 1st 2011, 3:09 pm

    ‘People, communities, work, society’. 11th Commandment.

  4. Shane
    Oct 2nd 2011, 4:08 pm

    Can we find one or two progressive consignors or purchasers to back the campaign up? I’ve emailed as a regular follower of Sotheby’s auctions (contemporary art and Chinese ceramics!) but I don’t have any leverage as a customer…

  5. dave marchbank
    Oct 4th 2011, 6:07 am

    What a shocking way to treat your employees

  6. John Jones
    Oct 4th 2011, 10:28 am

    This issue needs resolving ASAP to the satisfaction of the affected employees

  7. Pedro 2310
    Oct 4th 2011, 2:51 pm

    How is that if an employee robs a company it’s a criminal offence. But when a company robs its employee’s it’s called astute business?

  8. Damian Ibison
    Oct 5th 2011, 8:05 pm

    We are in the 21st Century, not the dark ages. Wise up Sotherby’s
    you can’t scare the justice out of the opressed.

  9. Show Solidarity at Sotheby’s | STRONGER UNIONS
    Oct 12th 2011, 10:24 am

    […] And if you haven’t yet done so, you can send an email to Sotheby’s senior managment in the UK, asking them to pressure their US colleagues to negotiate fairly – Take action here. […]

  10. Sotheby’s customers get the message about workers’ rights | STRONGER UNIONS
    Oct 14th 2011, 6:08 pm

    […] The campaign for justice continues, and you can make your protest heard by sending Sotheby’s UK management an email. […]

  11. Alan Shearn
    Oct 15th 2011, 11:36 am

    This one has got the lot. Massive increase in profits and a doubling of the CEO’s salary, workers who refuse to accept a reduction in their terma and conditions being locked out, unskilled agency workers being lined up to replace some of the jobs and the involvement of union busters rather than negotiation.

    If you want to know why you shhould support Occupy Wallstreet, look no further.

  12. Unions bid up for Sotherby’s workers rights « 21stcenturymanifesto
    Oct 15th 2011, 2:34 pm

    […] for justice continues, and you can make your protest heard by sending Sotheby’s UK management an email. 0.000000 0.000000 Share this:StumbleUponDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  13. Sotheby’s discovers the costs of being anti-union | STRONGER UNIONS
    Oct 19th 2011, 2:28 pm

    […] or something more modern – to the Teamsters strike fund should get in touch! Alternatively, send Sotheby’s UK a message about how they should settle their dispute with the […]

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