New York City unions, City Council, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney are jointly blasting Frieze as it prepares for the upcoming fair on Randall’s Island. The fair is reportedly sourcing non-union workers from as far as London and Wisconsin. Similar complaints were lodged last year.
“I have 210 members, and 70 of them are sitting at home right now,” IATSE Local 829 president Kenneth Kerrigan told AFC over the phone. “This work on Randall’s Island would help out the union, their families, New York… It’s a no-brainer.”
Kerrigan told me that the price of union benefits isn’t necessarily relevant to the fair’s bottom line, since it’s common practice for the show manager to inflate the price before charging the exhibitor.
“Everyone thinks it’s the unions. It’s not the unions, it’s the decorators who hire the union and inflate the cost. You’re not paying me 70 an hour, you’re paying the decorator 70 an hour–and let me tell you, [our wage] is much lower than that. It’s nearly half.” This year, Frieze is working with the event agency Production Glue.
“They’re trying to get Guinness World Record status on the world’s largest outside tent,” Kerrigan, like others we spoke with, was quick to add. He isn’t asking that Frieze displace all of its workers, just that some of the labor stays in the city.
“Companies which come to New York and use our resources…keep pointing fingers to contractors and subcontractors, but nobody’s ever held responsible for using our land and hiring our folks,” said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Local 210. “It’s a shame that the mayor and everybody else in City Hall allows this to occur.” Frieze has been granted a ten-year permit for two months’ annual use of Randall’s Island, with no stipulations about hiring practices. “I think we have a good opportunity to pass legislation so it doesn’t happen again. We’re not going to be able to do anything now, unfortunately, with the current administration that gave them these permits.”
Others in government, such as Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, are proving more receptive. Yesterday, she issued an official statement to AFC via email:
In my view, it is absolutely outrageous that the Frieze Art Fair is taking place on City-owned property on Randall’s Island and the organizers are not only refusing to use union labor, but are importing low-wage workers from outside the region. If the City is handing City-owned public park space to private commerce, it should only be done on the condition that jobs go to local workers and the organizers comply with fair labor standards. — Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY12)
Maloney’s position echoes that of City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who spoke out against Frieze on Wednesday at a union press conference.
Frieze denies any association with the Teamsters’ objections. This morning, Frieze spokesperson Belinda Bowring wrote to AFC in an email:
Frieze would like to reassure everyone that we are not in a labor dispute with Teamsters Joint Council No.16 or any other collective bargaining organization. Frieze has never had a dispute with any union and has no disputes with any of its employees.
Frieze has a track record of producing high-quality art fairs and has contracted reputable, mainly local, vendors with the appropriate skills and experience to prepare the Randall’s Island site for the upcoming art fair. We are not engaged in the construction industry in any respect but retain contractors as needed to build the fair according to our participating galleries’ needs. Our contractors have assured us that they comply with all laws and that they treat their employees fairly.
Frieze has a non-profit component to the business, Frieze Projects New York, that supports some of the most exciting contemporary artists working today and provides a public program to accompany the fair. At Frieze New York we aim to make a positive cultural and economic contribution to the City by creating the best art fair experience for our participating galleries and the public.
The unions will be looking to the other fairs and trade shows for support as they hope to initiate a conversation with Frieze. “We [union workers] do all the shows,” Kerrigan told me, “the Armory, the shows at the Marriott, the Antique Shows on 66th, shows on 26th street. This is what we do for a living. I’m just looking for a piece of the pie.”