Spirits were high on Wednesday, October 23, when art handlers, dock receivers, and drivers working at the art facility UOVO rallied for a union outside the company’s headquarters in Long Island. “We’re going to get this,” several of the workers said with confidence. But a union vote held at the company today resulted in disappointment: The workers lost by a margin of just three votes (18 voted Yes; 21 voted No).
The workers launched their union drive on October 3, when they announced their intention to organize with Teamsters Local 814, the city’s union for professional movers and art handlers. New York State Senator Julia Salazar joined their campaign, once crashing an in-house staff meeting meant to discourage unionization and attending rallies.
The vote’s results come after an acrimonious battle between the workers and UOVO’s management. “The company ran an expensive and vicious anti-union campaign based on fear-mongering, lies, and intimidation,” said Julian Tysh, an organizer with Teamsters, in a phone conversation with Hyperallergic after the vote today. “They pitted their employees against each other and did everything they could to stop from having to legally share power with the workers who make their company profitable every day,” he continued. “And yet, 18 workers were brave enough to stand up for their rights against their employer’s all-out assault on their federal rights to organize.”
In a statement following the vote, a UOVO representative told Hyperallergic, “We are pleased with the outcome, which will allow us to retain the flexible, merit-based culture of open communication for which we have always been known.” The company added:
We thank everyone who helped shed light on the realities of third-party representation. We are especially grateful to our talented team, who gave this important decision the thoughtful consideration it deserved. We will go forward as a company united, prioritizing the unrivaled technical expertise and client experience that has made us New York’s #1 art storage and services provider.
Workers who supported the union campaigned for the ability to bargain for job security, health benefits, increased safety, and retirement benefits. “We started this whole thing because pay is too low, health insurance is not good enough, safety is not good enough, and we’re understaffed,” Daniel Powers, an art handler and swing driver at the company, told Hyperallergic earlier this week. “We’re lifting things that over time are going to destroy our bodies and we’re doing this for the profit of one or two people.” (Pro-union workers at UOVO were not available for comment this afternoon.)
UOVO is a high-end art logistics company that offers packing, installation, collection management, storage, and transportation services for artists, museums, galleries, and more. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan are among the company’s clients.
These days, UOVO is planning to expand with a fourth warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn. To build the facility, the company received nearly $17 million in subsidies from the New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA). Last week, senator Salazar and a group of city council members threatened to pull the company’s public funding if it doesn’t “immediately cease and desist [its] campaign of intimidation and misinformation against [its] employees.”
Hyperallergic has reached out to Senator Salazar’s office but has not yet received a response.