e9bd204 -->
New York Occupy’s Lockout: Sotheby’s Struggle Enters Tenth Month

NY-SothebysAction

Sotheby’s New York auction house made international headlines last week, selling Edvard Much's painting “The Scream” for a record $119.9 million. But few stories mentioned what was happening outside the auction: picketing by 150 artists, activists, and locked-out art handlers.

“Tonight, the irony persists,” said Sotheby’s worker Julian Tysh. “Sotheby’s is selling a copy of 'The Scream' – an artful interpretation of human anguish and suffering – and they’re going to profit tremendously tonight, while at the same time they continue to create anguish and suffering among their own workforce.”

Tysh and 41 of his co-workers have been locked out since August 1, a month before Occupy Wall Street first occupied Zuccotti Park.  Among labor stuggles, the lockout has drawn some of the earliest, and longest-running, Occupy support. Occupy's involvement has inspired workers, upped the pressure on Sotheby’s, and amplified media attention  – though it hasn’t yet yielded a victory.

Job security at stake

According to the Teamsters, the key sticking point in negotiations has been job security.  Tysh was part of a “New Directions” slate that ousted the past leaders of Teamsters Local 814 in the union’s 2009 elections. Tysh, now a member of the local’s bargaining committee, says they inherited an otherwise strong contract marred by a crucial weakness: language allowing some work to be done by temporary workers rather than union members. Tysh says that in the past, management honored a “verbal commitment” that the size of the union workforce would stay above 50 people. When management stopped honoring that commitment, bringing in more temporary workers as the number of union members declined, the contract offered little recourse.

Sotheby's did not respond to a request for comment, but a company spokesperson told Bloomberg in December that the lockout was "the last thing we wanted."

While both the union members and the temp workers are predominately black or Latino, the temps are much younger than the union members. Their wages and benefits are much worse. Tysh charges that Sotheby’s has been exploiting the contract's weakness to replace union art handlers with a cheap, constantly insecure workforce: “The newer generation, because of this revolving door, has only seen six months of a job and then they’ve been back on the street.”

In negotiations, the Teamsters proposed to restrict Sotheby’s ability to replace them with temps. Sotheby’s proposed to expand it. “This is not about economics,” says Tysh, “because this is a very profitable company. If they wanted to bargain for economic concessions, they would have.” Rather, he charges, Sotheby’s mounted “a strong-arm attack from the very beginning: that the union had to accept these terms that would cripple the union’s power on the job, or else we’d have to suffer.”

Bloomberg reported that a Sotheby's filing showed that the company issued its chief executive $4.25 million in 2011 in "performance share units," which vest over four years if he meets "performance goals."

As Mike Elk has reported, in recent years employers have increasingly turned to lockouts: refusing to let union members work until they accept contract concessions or dissolve their union. For Sotheby’s workers, Tysh says that’s meant “tremendous economic hardship,” especially since the termination of their health insurance January 1.  According to Tysh, one of his co-workers had a wife on life support when Sotheby's cut off their insurance.

Tysh says the lockout also takes an emotional toll: “You get a lot of your sense of identity, and your sense of pride as a human being, from the work you do, and it’s hard to call yourself an art handler if you haven’t handled any art in nine months.”

Labor and Occupy push back

Pickets like Wednesday’s have become a common sight, supplemented with more disruptive tactics. Some invited guests at a February 29 reception for the Whitney Biennial—of which Sotheby's is a major sponsor—brought Teamsters and other activists along as their guests. Once inside, in the middle of the event, workers and occupiers dropped banners (including "Quit Sotheby's") and began a “Mic chec,” with a crowd repeating speeches condemning Sotheby's.  During a November auction, Occupy activists and members of other unions – but not Sotheby's employees – sat down and were arrested for refusing to leave the building.

Those arrests illustrate one of the dynamics in play: As amended by Taft-Hartley and interpreted by courts, federal labor law significantly restricts the ability of workers to demonstrate en masse or disrupt production without risking crippling fees or injunctions against their union.  Occupy activists don’t face the same restrictions.

Tysh says the occupiers have “on their own, taken the initiative to engage in a wide range of tactics…we thank them tremendously for that.”

Speaking for himself, Aaron Gemmill, an activist with Occupy Wall Street’s Arts & Labor group (technically a sub-group of the Arts & Culture Working Group), said there’s room to take that freedom further: “We have some flexibility as non-organized people to act outside of that legal framework, but I'd like to see it get pushed a little...I would like to see us doing more bold intervention.”

Tysh says union members are also taking "the type of militant action that you haven’t seen in the labor movement in a long time...We haven’t asked our members to willfully break any laws, so what we’ve done has been within the confines of what we can do, but at the same time it has been pushing the envelope.”

The Teamsters and their allies have also targeted Sotheby’s on other fronts. The union, and the Change to Win federation (with which it’s affiliated), have raised questions about Sotheby’s governance, most recently in a letter to shareholders from the CTW Investment Group.  The letter charges that since Sotheby’s went public, there’s been little change in the composition of its Board, which remains stacked with allies of its president. Gemmill credits union scrutiny with forcing the resignation of Rupert Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch, from the Board.

Sotheby's annual meeting will be held tomorrow. CTW Investment Group is urging investors to vote against the re-election of three board members, including Diana Taylor. Taylor is the girlfriend of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and also a board member of Brookfield Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, from which Occupy was evicted in November. In a December confrontation with Occupy activists and Teamsters, Taylor threatened to quit Sotheby's board if its CEO "accedes to any of your demands."

In February, students and workers protested a meeting of the University of Vermont's Board of Trustees, which includes Sotheby's Chief Executive William Ruprecht. The same month, anonymous activistscreated a prank website claiming that the Whitney Biennial was cutting ties to Sotheby's. In April, union activists in Cambodia held a press conference tying the lockout to Sotheby's refusal to return an allegedly looted 10th-century Cambodian statue. On May 1, the editors of two art blogs and a group of artists (including "Hope" artist Shepard Fairey) launched a petition to Sotheby’s that has drawn international art world support.

Whither art industry?

Gemmill says Arts & Labor activists have connected with the Sotheby's struggle in particular because "rather than kind of abstract arguments for economic justice, it is really is specific to an industry that we all work in and understand, and feel potentially affected by in a direct way.”

He says it’s helped to shape Occupy’s relationship with labor: “There is tension between organized labor and the Occupy movement, and I think the specific situation being so outrageous and so egregious and also so timely has been a lever that has helped to create dialogue between labor and the Occupy movement.”

The resolution of the fight will also shape the direction of a divided industry. Tysh notes that while art handling for major facilities is mostly union, the rest of the art transport industry is mostly unorganized.

An art handler for Phillips de Pury & Company, a nonunion auction company, says he and his co-workers face erratic scheduling, insufficient staffing and unaddressed safety issues (Phillips' Chairman Simon de Pury stars as mentor to contestants in the reality TV show Work of Art).  This employee—who requested, and was granted, anonymity based on fear of retaliation—says during years of working at Phillips he's requested a raise "several times" but never received one.

"It's a little bit of a dead-end industry, if you can't find a place that will allow some sort of upward mobility. You could do the same thing for years and maybe not get a raise for it." He says Phillips keeps workers below full-time hours whenever possible to save money. He and his co-workers string together work at at several places in the industry, sometimes working close to 24 hours in consecutive shifts. He has no health insurance. Some of his co-workers at Phillips have crossed the Sotheby's picket line to work as replacement workers for extra cash.

Nine months into the struggle, Gemmill says “it’s not clear really that we are closer to victory.”

“We’re going to keep up our fight,” says Tysh.  “We’re going to keep up our corporate campaign, and we’re going to keep our campaign in the art world…it’s going to continue to have some serious consequences for the company.” How long will it take?  “I really can’t tell you. I wish I could.”

Link to original article from In These Times


blog comments powered by Disqus

States - New York

New York News

Prev Next Page:

Luxury Apartment Building Will Have Separate Door For Poor Residents

Luxury Apartment Building Will Have Separate Door For Poor Residents

A luxury condo building on New York City’s Upper West Side has gotten clearance from the city to have a separate entrance, or a “poor door,” for low-income tenants, according to the New York Post. Extell, which is building the 33-story complex, will build a specific door for the 55 affordable housing units it’s including in order to be allowed to build a bigger building. The low-income units, which are available to people making 60 percent of median income or less, will also be in a segment that only contains affordable...

Bryce Covert | Think Progress 03 Aug 2014 Hits:394 New York

Read more

Koppell Versus Klein: A State Senate Race With National Implications for Democrats and Pro…

Koppell Versus Klein: A State Senate Race With National Implications for Democrats and Progressives

Primary season has begun to roll out across the country, including some hotly contested -- and some just plain bizarre -- races for governor, Congress and other local and state offices. One primary of note is in a State Senate race here in New York, and it has already attracted national attention, as well as mine, as it involves my State Senate district. This race is, in many ways, a microcosm of what is wrong with our political process nationally, as it pits an establishment-supported, "Republicrat" -- aka a Democrat...

Pearl Korn | The Huffington Post 29 May 2014 Hits:647 New York

Read more

Bill de Blasio wins mayor’s race in New York, ushering in new era of liberal governance

Bill de Blasio wins mayor’s race in New York, ushering in new era of liberal governance

Bill de Blasio overwhelmingly was elected mayor here Tuesday, becoming the first Democrat to lead New York in 20 years and ushering in a new era of activist liberal governance in the nation’s largest city. Shortly after polls closed at 9 p.m., several networks projected that de Blasio soundly defeated Republican Joe Lhota, a protégé of former mayor Rudy Giuliani. De Blasio campaigned on a mantle of progressive change following Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12 years in office, highlighting what he saw as “a tale of two cities.” The moneyed Manhattan elite have...

Phillip Rucker | The Washington Post 05 Nov 2013 Hits:534 New York

Read more

Appeals court blocks ruling against NYC stop-and-frisk policy

Appeals court blocks ruling against NYC stop-and-frisk policy

A US federal appeals court has blocked a previous ruling against New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy. In addition, the judge who made the ruling was removed from the case, the AP reported. The appeals court alleges Judge Scheindlin “improperly urged plaintiffs’ counsel to file suit as ‘related’ to a 1999 case previously assigned to her and because of certain media interviews,” S.D.N.Y. Blog reported Thursday. Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in August the New York Police Department’s policing method was unconstitutional under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.  Scheindlin found the NYPD’s 4.4 million stops...

RT 31 Oct 2013 Hits:372 New York

Read more

Will de Blasio Disappoint the Left?

Will de Blasio Disappoint the Left?

In writing about last night’s raucous NYC mayoral debate between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota, Michael Powell of the New York Times nailed de Blasio as a Nation sort of guy, but suggested that he might not be so forever. “The man likely to be the next mayor, Mr. de Blasio now sometimes seems less suggestive of a Nation magazine star than a savvy, even cool-eyed pol. (It’s worth noting that he barred reporters from his fund-raiser and declined to make public a list of the guests),” writes Powell. He’s...

Leslie Savan | The Nation 24 Oct 2013 Hits:425 New York

Read more

Shutdown protest targets Gibson

Shutdown protest targets Gibson

Prepared to remember next November, nearly 40 protesters demonstrated Tuesday outside Rep. Chris Gibson’s, R-19, Kinderhook office for him to “stop the madness” and act before tomorrow when the federal government may no longer be able to pay its bills. Protesters later marched on Gibson’s office to shred a $174,000 check made out to him by American taxpayers “for doing nothing,” Susan Weber, a MoveOn.org regional organizer, added. “This is Chris Gibson’s congressional salary that he’s not earning because he’s voted to shut our government down,” she said. Protest leaders from MoveOn.org assembled...

Joe Gentile Columbia-Greene Media 16 Oct 2013 Hits:543 New York

Read more

Stop-and-Frisk Practice Violated Rights, Judge Rules

Stop-and-Frisk Practice Violated Rights, Judge Rules

  Leroy Downes, a plaintiff in the stop-and-frisk trial, spoke at a news conference after a federal judge ruled that the practice violated the rights of minorities. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times   In a repudiation of a major element in the Bloomberg administration’s crime-fighting legacy, a federal judge has found that the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of minorities in New York, and called for a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms.         In a blistering decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A....

Joseph Goldstein | The New York Times 12 Aug 2013 Hits:527 New York

Read more

Advocates Gain Majority Sponsorship for New York Health

Advocates Gain Majority Sponsorship for New York Health

Our friends in New York at PNHP NY Metro, IATSE Local 1, Single Payer New York, and Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign were organizing a model of collaboration that will advance the cause of Health Care for All in every district. In Albany that day they forged agreements for the majority of the Assembly to sign as co-sponsors toNEW YORK HEALTH! New York Health is legislation introduced byAssemblyman Gottfried and Senator Perkins (A. 5389-A / S. 2078-A), that if passed, would establish a universal, single payer health program...

Healthcare for All Issue Team 25 Jun 2013 Hits:591 New York

Read more

Malcolm Smith and the alleged plot to rig the New York City mayoral race, explained

Malcolm Smith and the alleged plot to rig the New York City mayoral race, explained

Early Tuesday morning, the New York Times broke the news of the arrest of a state senator and a city councilman in a major federal corruption probe. They are accused of attempted to rig the city’s upcoming mayoral election. Four other New York political figures from both sides of the aisle were arrested as part of the alleged scheme. Intrigued? Confused? Us too. Here’s everything you need to know about the case. What happened? The probe involves both the New York City mayoral race and a development project in Spring Valley, New...

Rachel Weiner | The Washington Post 03 Apr 2013 Hits:697 New York

Read more

NY Rallies for Gun Control Legislation: 'History Cannot Reflect That We Allowed Sandy Hook…

NY Rallies for Gun Control Legislation: 'History Cannot Reflect That We Allowed Sandy Hook to Happen and Did Nothing'

Tony Bennett and Al Sharpton joined a rally in Harlem to demand nationwide gun control legislation. Each time Milagros Ortega saw a city council member pass by her on Thursday at a rally against gun violence, she stopped them and held up the picture she was wearing around her neck. “This is my son Francisco. He was shot and killed two months ago at the Queensbridge Houses. Please make other politicians pass gun control around the country,” she told politician after politician at a Harlem gathering to encourage other states to pass...

Alyssa Figueroa | AlterNet 24 Mar 2013 Hits:518 New York

Read more

NYS Assembly votes to ban fracking for at least two years

NYS Assembly votes to ban fracking for at least two years

The New York State Assembly has approved, by a 95 to 40 vote, a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New York. While it's unlikely to be passed in the Senate, the action reflects state lawmaker's growing worries about potential health impacts from the natural gas drilling process. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has led the way in recent days to ban hydrofracking for at least another two years in New York. The Speaker says right now, there are too many unanswered questions....

Karen DeWitt | North Country Public Radio 08 Mar 2013 Hits:686 New York

Read more

Woodstock Town Board First in State To Adopt Resolution in Support of Criminalizing Hydrau…

Woodstock Town Board First in State To Adopt Resolution in Support of Criminalizing Hydraulic Fracturing

The Town Board of Woodstock, New York at its meeting on January 15 reviewed and adopted a resolution in support of a NY State law to criminalize hydraulic fracturing and related activities. The Town will submit its resolution supporting NY Public Law #1 to the New York State Legislature for implementation. Some 40 citizens in attendance resoundingly supported the decision. This resolution (attached) is in support of NY Public Law #1, which makes hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas and all related activities crimes under the state penal code. NY Public...

Linda Leeds | Sovereign People's Action Network 17 Jan 2013 Hits:2918 New York

Read more

NYC Fast Food Workers Strike for $15/hr Pay, Independent Union

NYC Fast Food Workers Strike for $15/hr Pay, Independent Union

Two hundred workers from dozens of fast food outlets in New York City—including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Domino's, and Taco Bell—walked off their jobs Thursday morning to demand $15 an hour in pay and the right to form their own independent union, according to the organizers of Fast Food Forward. It is the largest strike ever in the United States against the $200-billion-a-year fast food industry and represents the latest in a wave of collective actions by low-wage workers to change conditions in their...

David Moberg | In These Million 30 Nov 2012 Hits:816 New York

Read more

Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief

Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief

On Wednesday night, as a fierce northeaster bore down on the weather-beaten Rockaways, the relief groups with a noticeable presence on the battered Queens peninsula were these: the National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Police and Sanitation Departments — and Occupy Sandy, a do-it-yourself outfit recently established by Occupy Wall Street. This stretch of the coast remained apocalyptic, with buildings burned like Dresden and ragged figures shuffling past the trash heaps. There was still no power, and parking lots were awash with...

Alan Feur | New York Times 12 Nov 2012 Hits:1020 New York

Read more

DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional By Federal Appeals Court In New York

DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional By Federal Appeals Court In New York

NEW YORK -- A federal appeals court in Manhattan has become the second in the nation to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling Thursday. The decision upholds a lower court judge who ruled that the 1996 law that defines marriage as involving a man and a woman was unconstitutional. The three-judge panel says the law violates equal protection. A federal appeals court in Boston earlier this year also found it unconstitutional. The issue is expected to be decided by the...

Huffington Post / AP 18 Oct 2012 Hits:891 New York

Read more

PDA In Your State

Sign the Petition

Button-DetroitWater

 

New York Leadership

For support in organizing within your state, contact:

       
     

 

State Leadership
Vacant

Email us at: field@pdamerica.org

Chapters

New York City


 Want to bring progressive change to New York? Start a PDA chapter; send us an email and we'll get you started.

 

PDA Issues

PDA is organized around several core issues. These issues include:

Each team hosts a monthly conference call. Calls feature legislators, staffers and other policy experts. On these calls we determine PDA legislation to support as well as actions and future events.

PR Rank