Teamsters demand Sotherby’s end its five-month lock-out

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PCS members supporting the locked-out New York Sotherby’s workers at a demonstration in London
PCS members supporting the locked-out New York Sotherby’s workers at a demonstration in London

The Teamsters Union, which represents art handlers at Sotheby’s Auction House, has created an online petition that asks Sotheby’s to end its five-month-long lock-out.

Sotheby’s locked out its staff of 43 art handlers in July.These workers, most of whom are minorities, have been without paychecks ever since.

The auction house hired notorious union-hostile law firm Jackson Lewis to attempt to starve its workers into giving up their job security and accepting wage cuts.

The workers, who are represented by Teamsters Local 814 in Long Island City, N.Y., will lose their health insurance coverage on January 1 because of the lock out.

The petition says, ‘Dear CEO William Ruprecht: Sotheby’s just celebrated its most profitable quarter in the company’s history, and yet you have locked out your hardworking, loyal art handlers – some have worked at Sotheby’s for more than 40 years.

‘Not only are your employees now forced to face the holidays without jobs, but they will also be forced to ring in the New Year by losing their health care.

‘Stop being a Scrooge and end the lock out of your art handlers before January 1, 2012. Every working American deserves job security and health care.’

Despite earning record profits – Sotheby’s made $774 million last year and near doubled its CEO’s pay – the company wants to cut wages and permanently replace its professional art handlers with inexperienced, outsourced workers.

The Teamsters local 814 Sotheby’s campaign website said: ‘The holiday season is a great time to appreciate what matters most: our friends and family.

‘That’s why the locked-out art handlers at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York are deeply concerned.

‘Starting January 1, their health care will expire leaving these 42 art handlers and their families without coverage going into the New Year.

‘It is bad enough that they have already gone five months without a paycheck, but losing their health care will make it difficult to care for the “Tiny Tims” in their family.

‘Sotheby’s CEO, William Ruprecht, is the epitome of Ebenezer Scrooge.

‘With a recent $3 million raise, he continues to hurt loyal art handlers like Sim Jones, who has been a loyal Sotheby’s employee for 42 years.

‘Ruprecht kicked Jones and his co-workers to the curb when he outsourced their jobs to less qualified workers for minimum pay.

‘Add your name to tell Ruprecht to stop being a Scrooge, end the lock-out before January 1 and save Christmas for these hardworking professional art handlers.

‘Together we can alter the outcome of “Christmas yet to come”.’

The dispute at Sotheby’s has brought out actress Susan Sarandon and hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters.

A month after a three-year contract expired, the New York-based auction house imposed a lock–out on July 29 on the 42 art handlers, whose job involves moving expensive collectibles from showroom to salesroom for waiting bidders.

Sotheby’s is using temporary workers to handle items for auction.

The temps and enhanced security since the lock–out began helped account for a $2.4 million jump in ‘other compensation’ expenses in the first nine months of the year.

The auctioneer proposed cutting the handlers’ workweek to 36 1/4 hours from 38 3/4 hours and increasing the number of temporary labourers.

The union said new work rules would decrease eligibility for overtime, resulting in take-home pay declining by 5 per cent to 15 per cent.

Unionised handlers start at $15.89 an hour, increasing to $20 and up depending on years of service. Overtime is a key component of annual pay.

Teamsters Local 814 said that Sotheby’s planned for temporary workers without medical or pension benefits to replace unionised art handlers as they retire or find other jobs.

Local 814 president Jason Ide said: ‘The people who leave would not be harmed, but the new jobs would be throwaway jobs.’

He added: ‘We do think it’s ironic that the entire union contract costs $3.3 million and Mr. Ruprecht got a raise for $3 million.’

Since the lockout began, Susan Sarandon appeared outside Sotheby’s Manhattan headquarters on October 18th, photographed with the placard, ‘Stop the War on Workers’.

Occupy Wall Street protesters twice joined the picket line.

The workers have succeeded in disrupting events involving Sotheby’s board members and posted videos of the confrontations on the Internet.

The handlers, whose work includes packing and shipping of art and collectibles, plus installing and dismantling exhibitions, said the temporary replacements are less skilled than they are and more likely to damage works.

l Hollywood’s biggest awards will continue to be made by American labour after the Chicago Teamsters reached a contract agreement on December 22 with the longtime manufacturers of the Oscars and Emmy Awards.

Fifty Teamsters with R.S. Owens & Company in Chicago voted overwhelmingly to ratify their first new contract in four years.

The three-year agreement includes the workers’ first new wage increases since 2006. The raises will be retroactive to the previous contract’s expiration on November 14, with average hourly wages between $13-$14.

‘Many of the men and women who make these awards have done so for 30 years, and the Teamsters are proud to continue this rich tradition,’ said Donnie Von Moore, President of Teamsters Local 743, which represents the workers.

‘Our members voluntarily worked shorter hours for the better part of a year to help R.S. Owens save money, and we’re pleased their hard work and dedication to the craft have not gone unnoticed.’

Teamsters also preserved vacation and other benefits without a work stoppage. Though Oscars will be handed out February 26, 2012, Owens employees produce and polish the golden statues throughout the year.

In addition to the Emmys, workers also create the MTV Video Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards and replica statues of the Super Bowl trophy.

‘Superior craftsmanship is necessary to produce these awards and Teamster labour will continue to be the gold standard,’ said John T. Coli, President of Teamsters Joint Council 25. ‘The Teamsters are committed to its partnership with R.S. Owens and championing the purchase of American products made by union labour.’

Unions throughout the entertainment industry supported Local 743 during negotiations for a new contract, including the Chicago Entertainment Industry Labor Council, IATSE Theatrical Stage Employees Union Local 2 and the Chicago Federation of Musicians.

l The following is the official statement from Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa about the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s final hours of service rule for commercial motor vehicle drivers.

He said: ‘We said all along that an hours of service rule has to protect highway safety and our truck drivers’ health.

‘We are reviewing the new rule, and in the coming weeks we will meet and discuss it with our allies and, if necessary, determine our next course of action.’