Sotheby’s Art Handler Petition Update

by Paddy Johnson on May 2, 2012 · 12 comments Opportunities

Photo via: AnimalNY

A super big thanks to everyone who’s signed their name on the Sotheby’s Art Handler petition so far. We had a really great turn out yesterday, with the petition garnering more than 1,000 names in a day. We’re also thankful to many of the publications who helped get the word out. e-fluxHyperallergicArtInfoAnimalNY and so many others did a great job of spreading the word.

Also, a nod to Jerry Saltz, for mentioning Sotheby’s deplorable art handler lockout on CBS this morning. The news segment was on Sotheby’s sale of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which many believe could fetch as much as 200 million this evening.

Given the spot light Sotheby’s has right now, it’s especially important that we keep the pressure up. If you haven’t signed the petition, do that today. If you have signed the petition but haven’t shared it with your friends, do that today. If you have signed the petition and have shared it with your friends, well, good job. Now, who has a connection with Edvard Munch’s estate/the City of Oslo? We need their signature!

Meanwhile, the petition has garnered a number of big names over the past day. Those include:

Fred Tomaselli, artist
Andy Stillpass, collector
Tony Fitzpatrick, artist
Christian Viveros-Faune, critic
R.H. Quaytman, artist
Jennifer McCoy, artist
Amy Rosenblum, artist
Kate Harding, artist
A.K. Burns, artist
A.L. Steiner, artist
James Welling, artist
Eileen Quinlan, artist
Joanna Warsza and Artur Zmijewski, Berlin Biennial Curators

Sotheby’s should take heed; this is not the kind of PR they want heading into their larger auctions this week and next. They should resolve this dispute now and save themselves some money.


Paul Slocum May 4, 2012 at 10:24 am

So what exactly are the art handlers asking for and how much were they making before?  3.3 mil$ contract for 43 employees means nearly $80k per worker.  That’s quite a bit more than I’m making at the moment, and seems like relatively good money for an art handler…  I’d like to know the full detail of the contract dispute before I sign.  How much do art handlers usually get paid?

Paddy Johnson May 4, 2012 at 10:43 am

The core issue here isn’t *their* wages, but the fact that Sotheby’s wants to replace full time workers with untrained temporary workers.  Those temporary workers would not receive any of the benefits of their full time workers, (who are currently understaffed to begin with), so none of them would receive healthcare, similar wages, etc. The union has between 8-10 men who will retire shortly so those jobs will be lost, plus any time anyone quites or moves on they’ll be replaced with untrained workers. That’s a very heavy blow, and would slowly dismantle the union. 

To my mind, signing a contract that allows Sotheby’s to slowly dismantle the union isn’t good for the workers. 

Paul Slocum May 4, 2012 at 10:54 am

Could you give me a link to something that documents this and the details of the negotiations and their contract before?

Paul Slocum May 4, 2012 at 11:15 am

Got your email, I’ll take a look.

To be clear, in general I wish Sotheby’s would burn to the ground.  😉

Will Brand May 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I’d also note that the ~$77k/employee figure is probably the cost to Sotheby’s, not the art handlers’ take-home pay. If you assume ~35% of that is in benefits (29.5% is the national private-firm average, and full-time union guys ought to be somewhere slightly higher than that), they’re sitting at ~$50k each.

That’s not to say those benefits aren’t, well, benefits, but just that a good part of the contract isn’t actually salary.

Paul Slocum May 6, 2012 at 11:57 am

I think that all Sotheby’s cares about is their bottom line, and they hire temporary workers simply because they’re cheaper, especially since their business is probably seasonal.  If the union lowers their wage demands, then they will have negotiating power to prevent union workers from being replaced by temporary workers.  So I’m still wondering how the $77k per person compares to going rates for this kind of labor?

iPaint gallery May 6, 2012 at 7:34 am

i like that idea 🙂

Paddy Johnson May 6, 2012 at 12:06 pm

50K is at the low end of standard for handlers. 

Paul Slocum May 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm

What is your source?

Paddy Johnson May 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Not one source really – mostly just people I know who are in the business. AirSea Packing will pays closer to Sixy Plus. A few of my friends who have been working at a gallery for a long time get paid in the 70’s, (though gallery standards can differ wildly). Probably the most accurate source would come from someone like Shane Caffrey, who organized the Art Handler Olympics and runs his own company or Jonathan Schwartz at Atelier 4. His company managed 40 percent of all the shipping at Frieze. If they tell a different story though, I would be very surprised. 

Paul Slocum May 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm

People I’ve known who were doing high-end art handling were actually making quite a bit less, but there are a lot of variables.  It sounds like the amount they want is in a reasonable range.

Paddy Johnson May 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Also, I’m told they haven’t even discussed wages. It’s an ideological difference that’s stopping any negotiations from happening at all. 

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