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Fight Returns to New York as Locked Out Art Handlers Continue Protest Against Sotheby’s

by Hrag Vartanian on October 18, 2011

Union members protesting in front of Sotheby's corporate offices on York Avenue in Manhattan. (all photos by the author)

Today, the art handlers that were locked out by Sotheby’s on August 1 are continuing their fight for justice in front of the auction giant’s corporate offices on Manhattan’s York Avenue. Dozens have been marching this morning and again this afternoon near large inflatable cats and rats that suggest the corporate avarice at work inside.

Jason Ide is the president of Teamsters Local 814, which represents the art handlers, and he said that the last time he met with Sotheby’s was a few weeks ago and the corporation’s lawyer told him “live it, love it, learn it” about the only contract they would offer the art handlers.

A sign worthy of a Chelsea gallery is posted outside Sotheby's.

While walking the picket line, protesters were chanting “One day longer, one day stronger,” “We want a fair contract, we want a fair contract, and when we do we want it? Now!” and “You say cutback, we say fight back” among other things.

The latest wave of protests in New York comes one week after the art handlers were galvanized by a number of successes in London, including:

That this House notes that 43 workers at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York were locked out of their place of work by their employer in July this year for refusing a new contract that would cut their hours, pay and pensions, as well as replace several experienced unionised handlers with temporary unskilled employees; commends these workers, who are mainly low-waged ethnic minority workers, for the honourable manner in which they have fought to get their jobs back and defend their membership of their union, the Teamsters, despite the intense hardshipthey and their families have been forced to endure; further notes that representatives of these workers have come to London to make their case to their employer on the day of the art auction at Sotheby’s London, and that this art auction will see at least half a billion pounds pass through Sotheby’s hands; condemns the contrast between the elite culture of Sotheby’s and the poverty imposed on hard-working employees in order to boost Sotheby’s profits; and calls on the Sotheby’s board, which includes James Murdoch, to abandon its strategy of breaking unions in order to drive down the terms and conditions of low-waged workers who are trying to support their families.

Artinfo’s Julia Halperin has a report about the London protests and DNAinfo has an extensive article on the Occupy Wall Street connection.

Another sign on York Avenue questions the safety of art handling at Sotheby's.

We also received the following anonymous video from what appears to be last night’s contemporary art event at Sotheby’s. It’s not particularly incriminating but it does demonstrate that those sympathetic to the cause have access to some very exclusive spaces:

Also of interest is the following video, which was posted last week and shows members of Occupy Wall Street’s action in Union Square Cafe, which is owned by Danny Meyer, a Sotheby’s board member:

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