At Thursday night’s meeting of the Hudson River Park Trust, a pair of locked-out Sotheby’s art handlers stood up to ask the chair, Diana Taylor, some questions. Taylor, a former investment banker, sits on the board of Sotheby’s as well as the board of Brookfield Properties, who own Zuccotti Park. She is also, as it happens, the domestic partner of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently joked about the NYPD being his own private army. That private army’s disproportionate presence both outside Sotheby’s and at Zuccotti Park is well-documented.
The questions the art handlers ask are confrontational and sensational, but fair. They ask what will happen to their families, and whether Sotheby’s plans to reenter contract negotiations they unilaterally backed out of four months ago. Taylor’s response is reprehensible:
For those that can’t watch the video: Taylor responds that she has “one thing to say to you. I had one conversation with [Sotheby's CEO] Bill Ruprecht about this, and I told him that if he accedes to any of your demands, I will resign from the board. That’s what I have to say.”
Originally, I had a nicely-reasoned response here about the importance of negotiation. I had written that most things aren’t black and white, that absolutism is an ineffective managerial tactic, and that the unwillingness of Sotheby’s management to even talk to labor organizers simply cannot be the best way to resolve this situation. I had some numbers about exactly how little money Sotheby’s is firing their art handling staff over (low single-digit millions, spread over fifty-odd employees), and exactly how unprecedented a lockout is (only Sotheby’s, among the three major auction houses, has used such a tactic).
I scrapped that, and here’s why: these people simply do not think like us. We are dealing, here, with a group of people who hold real, physical human suffering to be of less importance than the series of abstractions we have developed to determine what belongs to whom. We are dealing with a group who view the social structure of the corporation not as a team or as a vehicle for excellence, but as a convenient way of shielding your personal reputation from the moral liability accrued when you act like a dick all day. There are many tax brackets, but there is only one standard for fairness; at least one member of the Sotheby’s board clearly fails to understand this.
ArtINFO’s In the Air first reported on this story yesterday, and they have an update from the management of Sotheby’s.