Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.

Sotheby’s Lockout of Teamsters 814 Comes to an End as New Contract is Ratified

Susan Sarandon dons a Teamsters jacket at an OWS rally

42 art handlers who had been locked out by Sotheby’s will return to work as the auction house and Teamsters Local 814 came to an agreement last week. From Crains New York:

The three-year deal, reached in the last week, boosts wages 1% in each year, lifts the starting salary to $18.50 an hour, and maintains the workers’ benefits, according to Jason Ide, president of Teamsters Local 814, which represents the 42 workers. Sotheby’s had sought to permanently replace some of the union art handlers with temporary nonunion workers, but the deal protects the positions as union jobs, Mr. Ide said.

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

A turning point in the negotiations came when both sides added new voices to the bargaining table. Sotheby’s replaced the law firm Jackson Lewis with Proskauer, the law firm which recently handled the National Football League lockout. Attorney Bob Batterman, acting on behalf of Sotheby’s, had a positive impact:

“Ever since that change happened, they wanted to bargain,” Mr. Ide said. “We had a breakthrough. We weren’t hearing, ‘Take it or leave it,’ but, ‘Let’s work towards a resolution.’ ”

Mr. Batterman said that “after several years of negotiation and a 10-month lockout, maybe a different approach, maybe a different personality was needed.”

He said that George Miranda, president of Teamsters Joint Council 16, which represents more than 120,000 Teamsters in the New York area and Puerto Rico, entered the negotiations around the same time he did, helping to produce what he called a “win-win” result.

Mr. Batterman said Sotheby’s won more flexible scheduling and overtime provisions while preserving workers’ job security, wages and benefits. He said the company never proposed replacing union workers with part timers.

“This wasn’t about a desire to fight,” he said. “This was about a desire to improve the workplace. A more productive employer provides better job security and can provide better wages and benefits.”

The situation was emblematic of 1% overreach and thus became a talking point of the Occupy Wall Street protests. The Teamsters praised OWS in their press release announcing the end of the lockout.

“Occupy Wall Street was enormously helpful and we’re happy they adopted us from the beginning,” he said. “It was certainly helpful in generating national media. More importantly Occupy Wall Street gave it a bigger context that people were able to relate to. They created a framework that has helped changed the national discussion with the notion of the 99% and the 1%.”

An article posted on Waging Nonviolence, which appears to have been written by a member of OWS, paints a similar picture:

The art handlers’ story was compelling, and a fitting metaphor for the realities that we all face in a society run by the 1 percent. Our current system removes the humanity from us all and turns us into interchangeable commodities. We are no longer fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters; we become consumers, workers, bosses and debtors. Sotheby’s is a company that drives the ultimate luxury market, taking art objects that are some of the most profound expressions of human culture and selling them as personal property to wealthy buyers. Rather than being held in common for all to admire, they’re often kept in private vaults and admired only for their price tag.

This dispute pitted middle-class workers who wanted to preserve the dignity of their jobs against some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world. The bosses put up a hard fight, forcing us to sustain our enthusiasm over a long campaign.


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