Opulent Sothebys' Appalling Treatment of Its Workers Is a Perfect Symbol of the Out of Touch 1%
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Sotheby's isn't even standard 1 percent. It's .001 percent.
The Teamsters-affiliated art handlers at Sotheby's have been locked out for several months, ever since their contract went up for renegotiation.
ThirteenNY's Sam Lewis went down to the picket line to interview the workers there, and explained the background of the dispute:
On Aug. 1, after contract negotiations stalled, Sotheby’s sent letters to the art handlers telling them not to return for work. Their dispute involves shortened work weeks and also the collective bargaining rights of new hires. Sotheby’s initiated the lockout a month after the art handlers’ contract expired. Then they hired temporary employees to replace the union art handlers. The lockout comes after the company announced record profits for the first half of 2011.
Those record profits are really remarkable. From the WSJ in August: "Sotheby's said it sold $3.4 billion of fine and decorative art in the first half of this year, up 55% from a year earlier, as the art market continues to recover from recession."
One of the handlers Thirteen interviewed had this message:
I just want the people to know that we’re out here everyday for a purpose, we’re not just making noise. The clients seem to be so focused on the auction and people from the community don’t always come inside the building, but they wake up to our whistles. I want them to know that they’re actually waking up to our struggle. Now that we’ve been out here for three months, people from the community have started coming by and asking us questions.
It seems as though people in New York are finally opening their eyes to this perfect encapsulation of our nation's gross disparity. As the Wednesday night protest and auction went on, the jeering escalated. It was hard not to feel frustrated by the endless parade of buyers into the Sotheby's entrance.
There were a few arrests, and the temporary-hire security guards lined up with their backs to the picket line to actually shield the attendees (many of whom were flashing jewels and or fancy haircuts) from having to look at the young people and workers shouting "shame."
The cops tried to keep us, even those just taking photos, in designated pens so the sidewalks could be clear, but protesters bristled at this and ran out onto the public space to confront patrons. One young woman danced and skipped up and down the line of security guards.
Some well-heeled auction-goers turned their camera phones at us or laughed, while others hurried in, heads down, to mingle with each other and to break some art-buying records with their millions.
The WSJ reported on the Wednesday auction, describing the night's big sales and naming the attendees:
...competitive energy in Sotheby's York Avenue saleroom, which included everyone from Miami collectors Don and Mera Rubell to tabloid favorite and oil heir Brandon Davis. The atmosphere was also lively outside the auction house's doors, as art handlers involved in a labor dispute with Sotheby's protested by bleating air horns.
The protests didn't seem to deter bidders, though. In all, Sotheby's sold $315.8 million worth of art—well over its $270 million high estimate and the third-highest sale total ever achieved by its contemporary art department. (Its peak remains a $362 million evening sale in May 2008.)
After I left the demonstration, the police confiscated whistles and drums due to "noise complaints" from the neighborhood.
Then, moments later, the 1 percenters exited the building. Some doubted it was a timing of pure happenstance.