December 9, 2011
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
It’s been a long four months for the 43 art handlers of Teamsters Local 814 who were locked-out by Sotheby’s on August 1. The Local held a rally outside Sotheby’s on December 8 as wealthy buyers, or the 1 percent, walked past the members, or the 99 percent, to purchase Egyptian, Classical and Western Asiatic Antiquities pieces. One of the items up for auction, according to Sotheby’s, is a “Roman Imperial marble head of Zeus Ammon, made in Alexandria circa 120-160 A.D.”
Jason Ide, IBT Local 814’s president, said the union will be meeting with Sotheby’s bargaining committee on Monday, but since July the company has not backed off its demands. Out of the 100 demands, the most egregious is the company’s insistence on hiring non-union workers who would be paid a lot less than 814 members.
“I don’t see how we can accept a contract that will essentially displace the union in the long term,” said Ide. As if pitting non-union against union workers isn’t enough, the company also wants to restructure overtime by not paying workers overtime on Saturday if they call in sick during the week.
Ray, employed for six years at Sotheby’s before the lock-out, said it’s been hell since August. “The lock-out has completely changed my lifestyle. This is the first time in my 30 years of working that I’ve been put out of work without being fired.” But he considers himself one of the luckier ones because his wife is working and he’s a saver. “I worked a lot of overtime, so I was able to put a lot of money in the bank.”
While he’s glad he’s not in dire straits, Ray said that some of his friends are doing badly. “Some of the guys with families will be losing their health coverage at the end of the month, but they don’t have the money to pay a $1,000 family premium with COBRA health insurance.”
Despite no work for four months, Ray said he’s hopeful there will be a resolution with Sotheby’s. “They can’t keep us locked-out forever.”
James Parker, a 22-year Sotheby’s veteran, said it’s been a rough road as he’s behind on his mortgage and his wife doesn’t earn a lot. While Ray will be able to buy Christmas gifts, Parker said he can’t. He’s currently relying on income from the Local’s strike fund and some odd carpentry jobs, but he can’t earn too much without jeopardizing his unemployment benefits.
Parker’s also hopeful there will soon be a resolution, as the company is obligated to pay the 43 art handlers for any unused vacation time at month’s end, which could equal four to five weeks’ worth.