ACT NOW! Protest to auction house management about US lock-out

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Solidarity with workers in the USA

Sotheby's art handlers lock out

October 2011

The TUC has set up an e-action on our Going to Work website in solidarity with New York employees of the world famous Sotheby's auction house. We want British trade unionists to register their concerns with management in London about what their parent company in the US is doing, to help put pressure on New York management to negotiate in good faith, drop their greedy attempts to reduce terms and conditions and security of employment, and settle the dispute forthwith.


Sotheby's is a world famous auction house, founded in the UK in the 18th century, but now run from its global New York headquarters. It specialises in sales of hugely expensive works of art, wine, and so on, and last quarter it made record profits.

Despite that, management in New York want to replace the existing art handlers - the people who care for and transport priceless works of art - with temporary workers on lower wages, shorter hours and no pensions.

The art handlers' union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 814 in New York, protested and demanded good faith negotiations on the new contracts. Instead, Sotheby's hired a union-busting law firm to conduct negotiations, and locked the workers out.

They have been relying on social security and union benefits since July. Meanwhile, Sotheby's rewarded its New York based CEO, William Ruprecht, by doubling his annual salary to almost $6 million.

Union solidarity

The Teamsters have been running an imaginative and active campaign to get Sotheby's to negotiate, including a fantastic website called Sotheby's - Bad for Art.

Now they have called on British trade unionists to demonstrate solidarity with our fellow trade unionists in New York. Sotheby's UK is not unionised, but we can put public pressure on them to persuade their parent company in the USA to do the right thing.

First, we will put pressure on the UK management. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has written to the Chairman of Sotheby's Europe and Sotheby's UK, Melanie Clore and the Hon James Stourton, asking them to urge their parent company to negotiate in good faith.

Second, we are urging British trade unionists to email the two company leaders with the same message.

And next, we will take our campaign to the public, including Sotheby's customers. Auction houses depend on public confidence and trust, and we think that what Sotheby's is doing in the US would severely damage both if their well-heeled clientele knew about it.

The TUC's Southern and Eastern Regional Council (SERTUC), together with London trade unionists from PCS and Prospect (who organise art handlers in the public sector) and Unite, the Teamsters' sister union in the UK, have already leafleted outside Sotheby's and there is more to come - so watch this space....

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