Offer Your Art Handlers A Fair Contract
  • Petitioned Sotheby's

This petition was delivered to:


Offer Your Art Handlers A Fair Contract

    1. Paddy Johnson
    2. Petition by

      Paddy Johnson

      Brooklyn, NY

May 2012


Crain's New York reports that Sotheby's art handlers have ratified a new contract and will return to work soon after months of being locked out of their workplace.

Paddy Johnson who created the petition on reported on her blog:

"The 10-month-long lockout of the Sotheby’s art handlers has come to a close, according to Crain’s New York. The new three-year deal boosts wages only 1% per year—considerably less than inflation—but protects existing union positions, raises starting salaries, and maintains benefits.

"Putting these 42 union art handlers back to work is a victory. Thank you to everyone who signed our petition, as the Teamsters have repeatedly told us it helped move negotiations forward."

Find out more and read analysis from AFC's Will Brand of what the workers did and did not win here.

May 1, 2012

For the past eight months, Sotheby’s has locked its 43 unionized art handlers out of work. Rather than negotiating a fair contract with its employees, the company has issued a set of demands: the gutting of the art handlers’ union, the elimination of health insurance and other benefits, and the replacement of full-time skilled workers with temporary unskilled laborers.

Sotheby’s has decided that the handling of priceless artworks is an easy job; that low-paid temporary workers with little training or incentive can manage the constant stream of artifacts into and out of the world’s largest auction house. The 43 locked-out workers who have made art handling their career know this is not true.

There have been no negotiations. In meeting after meeting, Sotheby’s has stalled, preferring instead to extend the lockout in the hopes that their workers might eventually capitulate to demands designed to exploit them. To make certain, the company has hired Jackson Lewis, a notoriously anti-employee law firm that the AFL-CIO has called the “number one union buster in America”.

The message from Sotheby’s is clear: art handlers do not deserve the same benefits as the rest of their staff. If art handlers expect the privileges of their betters, like health insurance or collective bargaining rights, it is acceptable to make them suffer.

Sotheby’s has no financial incentive. Last year, the company saw its highest profits ever, increasing revenue by 7% year-on-year.  They remain the largest and most successful business in the art world, and they know it: in 2010, CEO William Ruprecht more than doubled his own salary, to $6 million.

The entire union contract totals $3.2 million.

It is the sheer obviousness of this abuse of power that makes action necessary.

We are asking artists, collectors, and institutions to sign this petition and stand in solidarity with the Sotheby’s art handlers until they receive a fair contract. This is not about hurting the company financially; unlike Sotheby’s, we have no taste for the suffering of others. This is about displaying a commitment to the moral principle of fair pay for fair labor, and to the possibility of ethical practices in the arts. This is about declaring, as an industry, that people should be treated well. This is about standing up and saying, in one voice: “This is wrong.”

We must be the conscience that Sotheby’s lacks.

If you’re an artist you can tell Sotheby’s you don’t support their sale of your work.
If you're a collector, you can buy and sell from other auction houses whenever possible.
If represent an institution you can refuse sponsorships from Sotheby’s.
If you're in the media, you can use your platform to assure that all voices get heard.

Whoever you are, you can sign this petition, and show Sotheby's where you stand. Then forward it to everyone you know. You can make the art world you want to participate in; a place where people matter, and no one can be casually cast aside.

Paddy Johnson, Will Brand, Whitney Kimball, Art Fag City
Anton Vidokle, Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, E-flux
Hrag Vartanian and Veken Gueyikian, Hyperallergic
Haim Steinbach, artist
Deborah Kass, artist
Marilyn Minter, artist
AA Bronson, artist
Shepard Fairey, artist
William Powhida, artist
W.A.G.E., artist collective
Andy Stillpass, collector
Joanna Warsza and Artur Zmijewski, Berlin Biennial curators
Coco Fusco, artist, writer
Molly Crabapple, artist
James Welling, artist

Recent signatures



      Paddy Johnson
      Petition Organizer

      Sotheby´s and Teamsters Reach Deal to put 42 Art Handlers Back on the

      NEW YORK, NY - Teamsters Local 814 today announced the successful end of its fight for a fair contract for 42 art handlers who were locked out by Sotheby´s auction house for ten months. The workers voted overwhelmingly this morning to approve a new successor collective bargaining agreement that includes pay raises and maintains health and retirement benefits.

      "These hardworking men and women will go home today and tell their families that they got their job back, and that's what the Teamsters call a victory," said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16, representing more than 120,000 Teamsters in New York tri state area and Puerto Rico. "This was a tough fight, and I am extremely proud of these workers, and of the leadership team at Local 814. We stuck together and we won together....

    2. Reached 2,500 signatures
    3. We've Surpassed 1,000 signatures

      Paddy Johnson
      Petition Organizer

      Thanks to everyone who's signed the petition so far. Our message to Sotheby's is clear and our numbers are growing!

      I'm pleased to announce we've added a number of big name signatures to our list including;

      Fred Tomaselli, artist
      Andy Stillpass, collector
      Tony Fitzpatrick, artist
      Christian Viveros-Faune, critic
      R.H. Quaytman, artist
      Jennifer McCoy, artist
      Amy Rosenblum, artist
      Kate Harding, artist
      A.K. Burns, artist
      A.L. Steiner, artist
      James Welling, artist
      Eileen Quinlan, artist
      Joanna Warsza and Artur Zmijewski, Berlin Biennial Curators

    4. Reached 1,000 signatures


    Reasons for signing

    • renee Vara NEW YORK, NY
      • over 2 years ago

      we would be NO where without artists and their ability to find work which supports their creativity. we cannot forget this.

    • Hiroyuki Hamada EAST HAMPTON, NY
      • over 2 years ago

      A big art institution like Whitney should lead other cultural institutions in bringing about change in how art workers should be treated.

    • Joe O'Neill SANTA MONICA, CA
      • over 2 years ago

      As both an artist and union member I am appalled at Sotheby's utter disregard for their employees. Record profits? It seems that employees should be rewarded for their contribution to the Sotheby's bottom line rather than punished for the sake of it.

      • over 2 years ago

      Do you want to know why I am signing it

      Please go to this site:

    • Unknown Artists NEW YORK, NY
      • over 2 years ago

      At the height of an art bubble, Sotheby's is making record profits, yet they refuse to pay fair wages and benefits to their workers. We must change these unfair economic practices by any means necessary.


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