The New York Women’s Foundation, a philanthropic organization, bills itself as a progressive, feminist group whose mission is “to create an equitable and just future for women, families, and communities in New York City.” So five wives of locked out Teamsters wanted to know why Diana Taylor, the foundation’s chair who sits on the Board of Directors of Sotheby’s Auction House, was supporting the auction house’s attempt to starve its workers into accepting a new contract that cuts wages and reduces job security.
“Sotheby’s and Diana Taylor are part of the top 1 percent in this country. As chair of the Women’s Foundation, Diana Taylor should support their mission of working for economic security and justice for women,” said Pat Walsh, wife of locked-out art handler John Walsh. “So why, as a board member of Sotheby’s Auction House, does she condone Sotheby’s throwing hardworking New Yorkers out on the street without paychecks? Our families rely on these good jobs and benefits.”
Walsh and the other wives were asking this question as they passed out leaflets with information about Sotheby’s lockout at a Women’s Foundation neighborhood dinner in Queen’s New York.
During the summer, Teamster Local 814, which represents 43 art handlers at Sotheby’s, and the company began bargaining on a new contract to replace the one that was to expire July 1. Sotheby’s demanded concessions that would reduce the work week to 36 hours, cutting worker pay by 10 percent. It also wanted to cap overtime, eliminate the workers’ retirement benefit, and hire temporary workers at lower pay and with no benefits to pick up the slack created by the reduced hours of its permanent employees.
When union members balked at the concession demands, the company sent them a letter informing them that they were locked out and not to show up for work on August 1. The company has subsequently stopped paying the workers’ health insurance premium. Before the lockout began, Sotheby hired the union avoidance law firm Jackson Lewis.
Sotheby’s concession demands aren’t driven by economic necessity; in fact, the company is doing quite well. It reported $774 million in revenue last year, and during the last quarter, company profits were the highest in the art dealer’s 267-year history. Sotheby’s CEO Bill Ruprecht saw his salary almost double in 2010 to $6 million.
“With profits over $100 million in the last quarter alone, I don’t understand why Sotheby’s would make such a bad decision to outsource this sensitive work and kick us to the curb for no reason,” said Julian Tysch, a locked-out Sotheby’s art handler speaking about Sotheby’s decision to hire replacement workers during the lockout.
Since the lockout, union members have been picketing Sotheby’s and trying to win public support for their fight. Last week, Teamsters traveled to the United Kingdom where they asked Members of Parliament to censure the London-based company for its treatment of it workers.
Local 814 President Jason Ide addressed a British Parliamentary hearing at which he told the Members of Parliament that “everybody’s concerned about the same things: they’re concerned about jobs, they’re concerned about growth, and they’re concerned about unemployment. We have our own issues as well—we have 43 workers who’ve been locked out at Sotheby’s for two and a half months. The boss is trying to starve us out.” Ide made his remarks after 23 MPs signed an Early Day Motion that censures Sotheby’s for its lockout.
Two weeks ago, Occupy Wall Street held a solidarity demonstration at Sotheby’s auction house in Manhattan during the auction of pieces from billionaire Lily Safra’s estate. “The Sotheby’s economy is destroying the lives of too many Americans,” said Sim Jones, a 42-year art handler and member of Local 814 during the demonstration.
“The outrageous behavior of this company and its law firm is a perfect symbol of what is wrong with this country, and is one of the reasons there are thousands of ‘Occupy’ protests springing up all across America and across the globe,” said Harrison Magee, an Occupy Wall Street protestor. “The top one percent are destroying families just to siphon a few more dollars their way.”