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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory