Occupy’s Lockout: Sotheby’s Struggle Enters Tenth Month
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.