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Sotheby's locks out unionized art handlers, sparks picket line

By Ray Sanchez

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Unionized art handlers and fellow Teamsters picketed outside Sotheby's on Tuesday after the auction house locked the workers out last week following a drawn-out contract dispute.

The 43 art handlers, members of Teamsters Local 814 whose contract expired in early July, were told by the auction house on Friday they could not return to their jobs at Sotheby's Manhattan headquarters and had been replaced by temporary workers.

The lockout took hold a month before the start of the critical fall sales, which last season took in hundreds of millions of dollars for Sotheby's and rival Christie's.

Sotheby's said in a statement it had been negotiating "in good faith" since May, and had offered "a contract with attractive terms," which the union rejected.

"The lockout of our property handlers is an outcome that none of us welcome," Sotheby's spokeswoman Lauren Gioia said. "We will continue to bargain in good faith in the hopes that a new agreement can be reached as soon as possible."

Talks were set to resume next week.

"Given the union's repeated threats of a strike ... during our negotiations, and the fact that our fall season is just one month away, we have had to make alternative arrangements as we cannot be unprepared for a strike," Gioia added.

Union President Jason Ide said Sotheby's had enjoyed plenty of recent financial success and had no reason to seek concessions. A union statement said the auction house wants to offer buyouts and replace some of the unionized art handlers with nonunion labor.

Ide said temporary workers had an inferior level of training and service.

"Putting multimillion dollar works in the hands of a temporary crew is not a good idea," Ide said.

The art handlers were joined on the picket line by Teamsters Joint Council 16, which represents 33 locals in New York and about 120,000 workers.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)

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