Art Handler Lockout Has Cost Sotheby’s Millions, Could Cost Workers Healthcare Coverage

12/19/2011 3:40 PM |

(Courtesy Sothebys Images)
  • (Courtesy Sotheby’s Images)

As the 42 members of Local 814 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who’ve been locked out of their art handling jobs at Sotheby’s since August face the prospect of the lockout extending into the new year—and risking the expiration of their healthcare coverage next month—the Upper East Side auction house is also weighing the costs of replacing the long-time handlers with temporary workers.

Having to hire temporary, non-union workers has helped contribute to a $2.4 million increase in expenses for Sotheby’s so far this year, Bloomberg reports.

Sotheby’s, which is using temporary workers to handle items for auction, said it’s eager for a resolution. The temps and enhanced security since the lockout began helped account for a $2.4 million jump in “other compensation” expenses in the first nine months of the year, offset partially by savings in full-time salaries, according to a Nov. 9 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Meanwhile, the unionized art handlers are scraping by:

During the lockout, the handlers receive unemployment benefits plus $200 a week from their union. Their health insurance expires in January, the union said.

Perhaps most egregiously, though, Bloomberg notes that Sotheby’s CEO William Ruprecht saw a 100 percent increase to his pay last year, which totaled $6 million. “We do think it’s ironic that the entire union contract costs $3.3 million and Mr. Ruprecht got a raise for $3 million,” said Local 814 president Jason Ide.

The auction house has proposed reducing the handlers’ hours to 36 1/4 hours from 38 3/4 hours per week, and adding temporary workers who would not receive medical or pension benefits. Temporary workers would replace union members as they retire or take other jobs. “The people who leave would not be harmed, but the new jobs would be throwaway jobs,” said Ide.

Both sides continue to hold negotiations, most recently on December 12. Sotheby’s spokesperson Diana Phillips said: “This is the last thing we wanted.”