If you wanted to attend Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on Wednesday night, you’d need to shell out $5000 as a refundable deposit in order to become a Sotheby’s account holder, or be a member of the media. Of course, that has not always been the normal protocol. Then again, having to protect one-of-a-kind pieces of art during a Teamster labor dispute isn’t your everyday labor dispute either—especially when the Teamsters have teamed up with the #OccupyWallSt squatters from Zuccotti Park.
On August 1st, when negotiations between Teamsters local 814 and Sotheby’s Auction House broke down, the famous auction house initiated a lockout of its 43 Teamster-represented art handlers.
Sotheby’s said that it had offered an attractive contract to the handlers, and had no choice but to bring in temporary workers as a “contingency plan” after the union repeatedly threatened to strike and disrupt the upcoming fall season.
“The lockout of our property handlers is an outcome that none of us welcomes, as our union colleagues are important members of the Sotheby’s community,” said a Sotheby’s spokesperson in a written statement. “We will continue to bargain in good faith in the hopes that a new agreement can be reached as soon as possible. That is an outcome all of us will welcome.”
While picketing and protests have been a regular occurrence since the labor dispute began, things took an interesting turn as the Teamsters enlisted the support of the #OccupyWallSt protesters to help their cause. This escalation of tactics, which included disrupting one of Sotheby’s auctions, prompted the increase in security.
According to the New York Times:
The new precautions come after an incident in September in which members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, who have declared solidarity with the 43 locked-out art handlers, disrupted a sale by standing up and making statements condemning the auction house’s dealings with the workers, who are represented by Teamsters Local 814. The handlers’ contract expired in July and non-union workers have been performing their jobs since then.
The 10th-floor galleries of the auction house’s Upper East Side building are normally open to the public in the days leading up to an auction. But Sotheby’s has now restricted access to the art on display there to accredited members of the media and to Sotheby’s account holders. Anyone else wanting to see the works must first become an account holder, which requires leaving a $5,000 refundable deposit, said Diana Phillips, a Sotheby’s spokeswoman. “It is very unfortunate,” Ms. Phillips added, “but protecting people and art must be our first priority and virtually everyone seems to understand.”
On Tuesday, the Teamsters also targeted Sotheby’s law firm, Jackson Lewis, at the firm’s New York and Philadelphia offices.
According to a Teamster press release:
The workers, who are represented by Teamsters Local 814 in Long Island City, N.Y., distributed leaflets that read, “Jackson Lewis Kills Jobs,” along with a link to the website www.SothebysBadForArt.com. They also held banners that read, “Jackson Lewis Creates Misery for Sotheby’s Workers.”
As the union movement looks to the #OccupyWallSt movement to remain relevant in its war on American free enterprise, businesses who are targeted by, or in disputes with unions will likely see more radical tactics emerge from the convergence of these groups.