Artists Could Be, Should Be, Teamsters

by Whitney Kimball on April 9, 2014 · 6 comments Newswire


Somebody art handled this. (Image courtesy of

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.



anonymous April 11, 2014 at 11:29 am

this is a very bias story to post! please note not all employees of Mana Terry Dowd are for this Union! I am one of the employees who have been there for years! i have had my fair share of ditchdigging jobs for minimum wage before and after college with my “art degree”. these fast food wages they state is a joke! the statement of only having two choices after receiving a degree is only what you make of it, how ambitious you want to be after and during your college education is how you make it in the art community. Shame on you Whitney Kimball for posting without the “real facts”

WhitneyKimball April 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm


Thank you for sharing your experience, although the anonymous heading makes it impossible to attribute your views. I do admit that the story deserves more input from art handlers involved. It’s a quick news post, and if the story develops more, we will have more in-depth coverage.

Nothing we’ve posted here is not based on fact, except for the headline expressing my general opinion that artists could, should use collective bargaining power to get more money for themselves. I’m still waiting for a response from Terry Dowd, Inc./Mana Terry Dowd.

pawnintheirgame April 27, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Well you quoted the Teamsters several times. Exactly zero things said by the Teamsters were facts. They would say literally anything to trick these kids and you guys in the press and that is a fact.

Paddy Johnson April 27, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Could you relay some of the facts you know (past what you’ve already offered) and attribute them to a source we can talk to? Happy to have another point of view here.

jm April 19, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I’ve heard a similar story from two different people I’ve known who’d worked at TDI before it was bought by Mana. Their take on it was that by joining the Teamsters these young artists are tacitly admitting that their art careers are over. They laughed at the minimum wage thing saying that the average starting pay is about double minimum wage. The spirit of the company is described as “tough love,” and according to them, it has always been nearly impossible to get fired from the place and they always made a good effort to give everyone enough hours to get a fair paycheck. Also according to them, the industry tends to attract unique people whose skills are very limited (i.e. unskilled, slightly or more autistic asbergered) and gives them an opportunity when literally no one else would hire them except bars, restaurants, bagging groceries etc. This is not a unique situation to many who have gone through the mill that is “art school.” The question that kept coming up during the conversation was just because the thing you are moving is worth millions, does that mean the person moving it should get more? The collectors are only going to pay what they have to pay to get the piece on the wall safely, much like the ups or usps customer is only going to pay the market rate for a package to be delivered to their house. It does not seem to me after reading up on this and talking to my friends that this is anything more than a power move by some kids who are deeply in debt and are realizing that they got into the wrong biz if they wanted to make tall $$$. Like they say, greed comes in all sizes. Just my 2 cents….

Austin Ross Knierim April 11, 2014 at 8:29 pm

Now if we can get a freelancer art handling union we will be making a progressive step forward to professionalizing or at the very least defining a level of worth to the fine art technicians in this country.

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