Not a pretty picture as unions demonstrate after auctioneers are locked out for refusing to sign new contracts

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The genteel world of high art will this evening be engulfed in a union-busting dispute when leading art auctioneers Sotheby’s stage one of its ‘most exciting’ auctions.

A group of the American Teamsters’ members, supported by Unite and the TUC, will be protesting at the actions of Sotheby’s New York branch, which in July locked out its highly-skilled art dealers for refusing to sign a new contract.

Unite’s director of executive policy Steve Turner said: “The workers were locked out by the company because they refused to accept unilateral changes to their contracts. The changes covered hours and pay and the use of temporary staff on inferior contracts. They were expected to train the temps’ to do their work, with the company clearly aiming to replacing all permanent workers with casual employees.

“The real battle is over the effective de-recognition of the union itself. The Teamsters have had an agreement with Sotheby’s for more than 70 years. The attacks on their contracts are seen as a diversion from the real objective which is to get the union out of the company.”

Unite sees a link between the current hardline stance of the New York management with James Murdoch, the controversial boss of News International, joining Sotheby’s board of directors in May last year.

Steve Turner said: “It can be no coincidence that James Murdoch joined the board in 2010, and within months deskilling, wage undercutting and union busting become the order of the day. The Murdoch name is now a byword for job insecurity and the tarnishing of corporate behaviour.

“It’s not art that Sotheby’s ought to be hanging, but their heads in shame at dragging a once great name down into the labour relations gutter.”

Sotheby’s, founded in London in 1744, has been posting record profits. Unite, like the Teamsters union, is a member of the International Transport Federation.

* The protest will be at Sotheby’s New Bond Street premises in London W1A 2AA from 5pm as the auction of 20th Century Italian Art takes place – described by Sotheby’s as ‘one of the most exciting events in the auction calendar since 1999’.


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