Is this the dawning of a nationwide art handler movement? On the heels of New York’s Frieze and Sotheby’s protests, Chicago art handlers are now seeking to get a Teamster Local 705 contract at Mana Terry Dowd, a major Chicago-based art handling company. On April 25th, art handlers will vote in a National Labor Relations Board election, for the right to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.
The news was sent to us by Teamsters Local 814, who represent Sotheby’s art handlers and have spoken out against the Frieze Art Fair’s refusal to hire local union workers. The union has appeared frequently in art news since 2011, as art worlders and OWS groups have often voiced their support. And it’s a two-way street– the press release from the Chicago Teamsters Local 705 expresses further solidarity with artists:
Upon graduating with a degree in art, professional artists are faced with few employment options. Even after receiving debt-burdening advanced degrees, these highly talented and skilled artists vie for a professorship or to make it big in the art scene. In the meantime, postgraduate artist are typically faced with two remaining low-wage choices; to work as an assistant at an art gallery, or to become an art handler as with Mana Terry Dowd. These jobs often pay little more than fast-food wages.
And artists could use the support, because fair pay doesn’t come easy. “The company has added management and supervisors onto voter eligibility list, in order to offset the number of art handlers,” said Lead Organizer San Juanita Gonzalez. (Technically, only art handlers are supposed to vote). “We will challenge that.” Mana Terry Dowd has not yet returned our request for comment, but we will update accordingly.