MANHATTAN — The gilded halls of Sotheby's on the Upper East Side have become the latest target for Occupy Wall Street protests.
"The 99 Percent" movement has disrupted auctions at the elite institution to show support for the striking art handlers union and is expected to rally oustide Sotheby's on Tuesday.
Workers from Teamsters Local 814 have been picketing Sotheby's entrance on York Avenue, near East 72nd Street, since being locked out in August when contract negotiations reached an impasse.
The local's president, Jason Ide, said "The negotiations have gone pretty much nowhere," claiming that Sotheby's has issued roughly 100 demands, including reducing handlers' workday by half an hour, changing overtime rules and creating a group of 18 non-unionized, full-time employees that the union workers would have to train.
Ide said his workers — who are responsible for the transportation, preparation and display of the pieces — have remained outside the auction house, but that protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement have adopted the union's cause.
They've picked up the union's complaints about how the company wants to cut benefits amid rising profits.
"I don't think we have a 'condone' or 'not condone' policy on what they're doing," Ide said. "We're happy to see them seeing their cause as our cause."
Protesters snuck into an auction last week and one on Sept. 22, according to YouTube videos they posted of their antics. They also posted a video of a beer-holding man in Danny Meyer's Union Square Café, who alerted patrons in a raised voice that Occupy Wall Street was hitting the restaurant because Meyer sits on the board of Sotheby's.
During last week's incident at Sotheby's, air horns and shouts of "union busters" punctuated the auction house's usual decorum as works of art were on the table for five and six figures.
One man yelled, "Occupy Wall Street supports the locked out Teamsters; $680 million last year and they're taking away people's health care. You should be ashamed of yourselves." All of the protesters who disrupted the proceedings appeared to have been escorted out of building.
Sotheby's annual profits last year reached $680 million and it's on pace to surpass that this year.
During the first half of 2011, Sotheby's sold $3.4 billion in fine and decorative art, up 55 percent from the year before, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The union also said that Sotheby's CEO Bill Rupprecht awarded himself a 125 percent raise.
The union has also "decided to up the ante of what we're doing," Ide said.
He and another union member flew last week to London to rally with their British brethren in solidarity outside of Sotheby's Bond Street location on the eve of one of its biggest auctions, The Contemporary Art Evening Auction.
While they were making noise with roughly 70 local workers outside, $28 million was made inside the sale, according to Sotheby's.
A spokeswoman from Sotheby's said the auction house hoped to "reach an agreement with our union colleagues as soon as possible so they can come back to work." She disputed the union's allegations about the contract's demerits.
"We have offered them a very fair contract which includes wage increases in each year of the contract, increased contributions for health insurance premiums and continued participation in Sotheby’s 401K retirement plan which is the same as all our New York employees," she said.
"Unfortunately, the union leadership insists on asking for increases in wages and benefits that would almost double the cost of their contract and engages in a public pressure campaign that does not get our colleagues back to work."
She said that Sotheby's was continuing to bargain "in good faith" with a federal mediator, in the hopes of reaching an agreement.
In the meantime, security is apparently on the rise at Sotheby's, according to GalleristNY, which said the auction house started checking IDs recently.
"I was here at the last auction," the GalleristNY overhead a woman at a recent Sotheby's event saying. "There were activists. Young activists. They kept standing up. It was so scary. They couldn’t get them.”