At Sotheby's annual meeting, shareholders passed all but one proposal—a Teamsters-backed plan opposing “golden parachutes” for departing executives. That proposal might normally have passed, but an albatross lingered in the meeting room: the five shareholders forced into unemployment by Sotheby's. Those five shareholders belong to the Teamsters Local 814, the art handlers' union that has been locked out of negotiations with the auction house for over nine months.
The proposal submitted by the art handlers would have prohibited Sotheby's from allowing automatic executive payouts and compensation packages to any departing executives. The Teamsters' proposal was supported by ISS and Glass Lewis, two leading voting advisory services.
Philip Boroff for Bloomberg offered this explanation of how the existing policy works:
Had there been a change of control at the end of 2010, Chief Executive Officer William Ruprecht—whose compensation last year was valued at $7 million—would have been eligible for $18 million in severance and benefits.
Despite the proposal's outside endorsement and sound financial advice, the plan was rejected. While it failed to garner majority support at the meeting, the proposal did receive positive endorsement from 39% of shareholders. It appears that the art handlers, by challenging Sotheby's corporate policies, were able to demonstrate support from within the auction house.
Throughout the meeting, the art handlers continued to express their opposition to the Sotheby's lockout. Thomas McAllister, one of the five art handlers in attendance, pressed on the contrast between the auction house's soaring profits and the art handlers' forced unemployment.
“My family isn't doing well,” McAllister told Sotheby's Board Chairman Michael Sovern. “There is not a party in my household.”
As of Tuesday's board meeting, Sovern said he had no plans to budge on the lockout, believing “extra security and temporary labor costs haven't been 'material' and are less burdensome in the long term than acceding to contract demands.”
AFC continues to support the art handlers during their lockout. If you haven't done so already, sign our petition written on behalf of the workers. Sotheby's has forced their art handlers out of work, and are currently filling those positions with a rotating series of temporary workers.