Sotheby's art handlers in strike threat


Sotheby's may be notching up colossal profits worldwide, but a group of its art handlers – the people who package and carry around the multi-million-dollar works going under the auction house's hammer – are threatening to go on strike.

A group of US art handlers claims the auction house is planning to reduce the number of full-time handlers it employs, leaving poorly-paid, untrained workers handling and packaging some of the world's most expensive artworks. The auction house obviously disputes this.

Transatlantic traffic between London and New York is a huge part of the handlers' work, which involves dealing with artworks coming and going from destinations around the world.

An employee from a British handling company, who did not want to be named, said any strike could have "significant" repercussions for anyone shipping works between the Sotheby's bases in the US and Britain. It is common for sellers to transport artworks between countries, depending on the type of auction and the work involved. Specialists valuing different works are often based in different places around the world.

Jason Ide, the president of Teamsters Local 814, a union representing 42 New York handlers who work for Sotheby's, said striking was "on the table" if he could not find a suitable resolution to current negotiations.

The union wants to increase the number of handlers, while the auction house, he claims, is seeking to cut costs. Mr Ide is a former Sotheby's handler who during his time had dealt with "plenty" of paintings shipped between London and New York.

He told The Independent: "The key issue is full-time jobs. We have serious concerns. The company has done very well in the last few years and we have been asked to reduce the number of full-time qualified art handlers who handle art.

"We don't want low-wage non-union jobs handling Picassos. We don't think it's a good move. We are proposing folks who know how to do the job. Right now we have 42 members in the union; we would like to increase that to 60."

Despite the global recession, between 2009 and 2010, Sotheby's sales increased 74 per cent to £2.94bn. The company's president and chief executive, William Ruprecht, received £3.7m in salary and stocks the same year, a 150 per cent increase on his salary the previous year.

A Sotheby's spokesman said its British art handlers were not unionised. The spokesman added: "Sotheby's has a long history of a constructive and cooperative relationship with the unions that represent our employees, and has reached fair and equitable contracts in the past. We are committed to spending as much time as is necessary to reach a fair and equitable agreement in the current negotiations and to providing a wage and benefits package for our union colleagues which recognises and rewards their contributions to the success of Sotheby's."

Last month, a significant collection of Czech art held at the Greenwich, Connecticut home of collectors Norman and Suzanne Hascoe, 15 miles from New York, was put up for sale at Sotheby's in London.

In 2008, art handlers working for London's National Gallery dropped and damaged a Renaissance painting by Domenico Beccafumi while transporting it from an exhibition.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride