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Sotheby’s, Teamsters hammer out a deal

Workers who handle Picassos, Rembrandts and other pricey artwork for Sotheby’s overwhelmingly ratified a new contract Thursday, ending a 10-month lockout that had become a signature fight of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The three-year deal, reached in the last week, boosts wages 1% in each year, lifts the starting salary to $18.50 an hour, and maintains the workers’ benefits, according to Jason Ide, president of Teamsters Local 814, which represents the 42 workers. Sotheby’s had sought to permanently replace some of the union art handlers with temporary nonunion workers, but the deal protects the positions as union jobs, Mr. Ide said.
“The most important thing is these guys are going back to work,” Mr. Ide said. “They love being art handlers. They got into this line of work because they care about art and taking care of it.”
A breakthrough in the 10-month standoff came last month when Sotheby’s replaced its law firm, Jackson Lewis, with Proskauer. Bob Batterman, the Proskauer attorney who represented the National Football League during its lockout of players last year, took over the negotiations for Sotheby’s.
“Ever since that change happened, they wanted to bargain,” Mr. Ide said. “We had a breakthrough. We weren’t hearing, ‘Take it or leave it,’ but, ‘Let’s work towards a resolution.’ ”
Mr. Batterman said that “after several years of negotiation and a 10-month lockout, maybe a different approach, maybe a different personality was needed.”
He said that George Miranda, president of Teamsters Joint Council 16, which represents more than 120,000 Teamsters in the New York area and Puerto Rico, entered the negotiations around the same time he did, helping to produce what he called a “win-win” result.
Mr. Batterman said Sotheby’s won more flexible scheduling and overtime provisions while preserving workers’ job security, wages and benefits. He said the company never proposed replacing union workers with part timers.
“This wasn’t about a desire to fight,” he said. “This was about a desire to improve the workplace. A more productive employer provides better job security and can provide better wages and benefits.”
The lockout, which began a month before Occupy Wall Street, quickly became a cause célèbre for the protesters. They picketed outside the auction house, conducted actions inside that sought to disrupt sales, visited board members at their homes and places of business and targeted the auction house’s partners.
On several occasions, protesters demonstrated inside restaurants owned by Danny Meyer, a Sotheby’s board member. They also targeted board Chairman Michael Sovern, a professor at Columbia University.
“This was a tough fight,” Mr. Miranda said. “Now, we begin the job of rebuilding the relationship with Sotheby’s, which had always been a good place to work.”
A spokeswoman for the auction house said that Sotheby’s “is pleased that it has reached a new collective bargaining agreement with Local 814 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,” but would not comment further.
The Teamsters had reached a deal last spring with rival auction house Christie’s for a starting salary of $17.50 per hour, rising to $19.50 after raises kick in.


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