Locked Out Art Handlers Have 14 Million New Reasons To ‘Scream’ At Sotheby’s


As you may have heard, Sotheby”s had a good day yesterday, auctioning off Edward Munch’s “The Scream” for a record $119.9 million dollars.

Not having such a good day? The still locked-out art handlers at Sotheby’s, who appeared as number 84 on the Voice’s list of the “100 Most Powerless New Yorkers” last January and have been locked out from the auction house for nine months now.

In a nut shell, Sotheby’s thinks it offered its workers a fair contract for the business it is doing last summer. As the website Flavorwire summarized of the other side, the unionized workers see it a bit differently:

Sotheby’s, the world’s largest auction house, is doing better than ever, with profits on the rise. And yet, the unionized professionals who handle the art are out of work. They’ve been locked out since July 29 of last year, after refusing to accept an unfair contract from Sotheby’s that called to cut pay, hours, and pensions; eliminate health benefits; and replace full-time employees with temporary, unskilled workers. For the people who have spent years — and some, decades — lending their specialized skills to handling some of the world’s most precious artifacts, it wasn’t acceptable.

With the sale of “The Scream,” Sotheyby’s cries of poverty become a little harder to believe. According to Bloomberg* News, “Sotheby’s charges buyers 25 percent of the hammer price up to $50,000, plus 20 percent from $50,000 to $1 million, and 12 percent above $1 million.”

If so, with “The Scream” selling for $119,900,000 that would mean Sotheyby’s took in $12,500 on the first $50,000, $190,000 on the next $950,000, and $14,268,000 on the final $118,900,000, for a total tidy sum of $14,470,500.

Over 14 million dollars made in a single day? Not bad for a day’s work. According to a petition at, the house’s cut on a single good day at Sotheby’s could pay the CEO’s salary ($6 million), and the entire union contract, which is just over half of that ($3.2 million), with a few million to spare (and another 364 days of the year leftover).

*It should be noted that we got the info to run our numbers from Bloomberg News, whose founder’s girlfriend Diana Taylor is on the board of Sotheby’s and was none too sympathetic to the workers’ demands.

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For more on the art world and workers, check out Christian Viveros-Faune’s excellent piece in this week’s Voice: “London’s Big-Deal Art Fair Hits New York, Occupy Hits Back.”

For more on the 100 Most Powerless New Yorkers, click here.