August 1, 2008: Local 814 Teamsters at Sotheby’s Auction House work for a company that makes mega-profits selling priceless art to the super rich. So how is it that members always got stuck with concessions at contract time?
Three years ago, members were locked out and forced to accept huge concessions.
Today, Local 814 members at Sotheby’s are celebrating a strong contract that put an end to a decade of givebacks. In July they won a three year contract that includes:
- Wage increases of five, four and three percent over the three-year contract—plus a cost of living increase (COLA).
- An immediate hike in starting pay of more than $2.50 an hour—from $13.25 to $15.89—and a new wage scale that closes the pay gap and brings all employees to at least $18.47 over two years. Employees who already have two years at the company will reach $19.86 by 2010—with long-time employees making $25 an hour and up.
- Language improvements that strengthen union power by strengthening grievance rights, putting limits on subcontracting and bringing temporary employees into the union.
“This is the first time in my 16 years in this union that we were organized and worked together to fight for a contract that we can be proud of,” said assistant shop steward Dave Martinez.
The contract victory culminates a year-long campaign by rank-and-file members who worked with Teamsters for a Democratic Union to develop a strategy for winning a strong contract.
The keys to the successful contract campaign boil down to this.
Members started preparing for bargaining nearly a year in advance.
Bargaining committee members attended TDU workshops where they went through the contract section by section, identifying weak language and rewriting it. They called a meeting with Local 814 where they presented dozens of carefully worded proposals.
This comprehensive, early preparation meant that members were prepared to argue persuasively to union officials and management for what they wanted in the contract and why.
In the past, management set the agenda for bargaining and put forward contract proposals to divide and conquer the membership.
This time, the bargaining committee put forward demands that united the membership They conducted a member-to-member bargaining survey. They incorporated members’ demands into a comprehensive proposal that they reviewed with the members.
This process built unity by producing clearly defined priority demands that all members had a stake in and could get behind.
Communication and Mobilization
Members formed a separate organizing committee that was in charge of keeping members informed and organizing actions to show management that Local 814 Teamsters were united.
They began by wearing Teamster pins. They designed their own Local 814 contract T-shirts.
They collected money months in advance for their own Strike and Lockout Fund. That meant members had the money to wait out a lockout—the tool management used to win givebacks in the last contract.
As bargaining came to a head, members organized daily rallies where they got updates from their bargaining committee. The organizing committee set up a phone tree so they could quickly send text messages to the entire workforce.
Members would get the word and march through the auction house to hold a rally outside.
Management got the message that members were organized and united like never before.
Celebrating and Looking Ahead
Members’ advance preparation and mobilization campaign paid off. After an all-night bargaining session, management agreed to members’ priority demands. Members ratified the agreement by nearly 90 percent.
Members are ready to use the lessons they learned to take on new challenges—including enforcing the new agreement.
The contract campaign took a lot of hard work, says Tommy McAllister, a bargaining committee member. “We put in a lot of weekends, nights. It was a lot of meetings and preparation. But it feels really, really good that it has paid off. It gives us the encouragement we need to keep moving forward and take on new challenges.”
Here's How We Did It
TDU Gave Us the Tools. We Put Them Into Action.
“Local 814 Teamsters at Sotheby’s are celebrating a strong contract that puts an end to more than a decade of givebacks. We could not have done it without Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
“Local 814 members made this victory happen by getting informed and involved. TDU gave us the tools. We put them into action.
“That’s how we won big wage increases, closed the pay gap, and got new language that will limit outsourcing and build our union’s power for the future.”
Tommy McAllister, Sotheby’s, Local 814, New York
Organizing Was the Key
“Organization and communication were key to winning a good contract. We showed management that we were united and capable of taking coordinated action.
“As negotiations came to a head, we used text messages to give members the signal to meet outside for a bargaining update. Management would see almost the entire workforce meeting outside on our break.
“Instead of taking the elevator, we would march down the escalators in the middle of the building all the way down from the seventh floor. When 50 Teamsters do that together, wearing T-shirts that say ‘Strong Today, Stronger Tomorrow,’ that gets management’s attention.
“They knew we weren’t going to settle for a weak contract like in the past.”
Francisco Gonzalez, Sotheby’s, Local 814, New York
Early Preparation Made the Difference
“Last time, management had a comprehensive plan for how to weaken the union by changing contract language section by section. This time, it was the rank-and-file members of the bargaining committee who had systematically gone through the contract and made changes that would strengthen the union.
“We started nine months in advance at the TDU Convention and then attended contract trainings here in New York. Without that preparation and the training we got from TDU, management would have set the agenda for the negotiations and we would have been on the defensive.
“That’s what happened in the past. We let management create tiers that trapped members at the bottom of the pay scale and divided the workforce. This time, we went on the offensive and won pay increases that closed the pay gap.
“Even management had to admit they had no idea how prepared we were going to be.”
Dave Martinez, Sotheby’s, Local 814 Asst. Steward, New York
Local 814 Movers Can Do It Too
“Local 814 movers have been rocked by contract giveaways that have gutted our pay and benefits and divided the membership into tiers that are pitted against each other.
“The members at Sotheby’s have shown that it’s possible to reverse givebacks and win a strong contract when members prepare early and get organized.
“Our contract is up for a reopener next May. Now is the time to start preparing a contract campaign. We can’t keep using the same approach and expect different results.”
Walter Taylor, Commercial Mover, Local 814, New York