BURLINGTON, Vt. — About 50 University of Vermont students, labor leaders and community activists told the university board of trustees Friday that Trustee William Ruprecht should either end a lockout of 42 unionized workers at Sotheby's art auction house in New York City where he is CEO or he should resign from the board.
The activists who briefly attended a trustees meeting where they chanted slogans such as "Union busting is disgusting!" filed out of the room after the meeting went into executive session.
However, Ruprecht did not attend the trustees meeting.
"An attack on workers' families in New York is an attack on workers' families in Vermont," said Julian Tysh, one of the Sotheby's workers who was locked out of his job last summer. He spoke at a brief news conference before the trustees meeting. "Injustice in New York is injustice in Burlington."
Tysh said the two sides are continuing to negotiate and that the union had offered what he called "very reasonable terms." He said the main issue separating the two sides was to ensure that new hires can continue to belong to the union.
"We're basically asking for our existence and we don't think that's too much to ask," Tysh said.
Sotheby's spokeswoman Diana Phillips said the company had a long history of cooperating with the unions that represent its employees. The company had hoped to reach a fair agreement with the unionized workers last summer that would have included wage increases and improvements in health care and retirement. She did not address the union's concerns about new hires.
"Given the union's repeated threats of a strike in their many statements to the media during the negotiations, and the fact that our art auction sales season would begin within weeks, we felt we had no choice but to make alternative staffing arrangements with temporary replacement workers," Phillips said. "This was not an outcome anyone at Sotheby's welcomed, but we obviously could not be unprepared for a strike that could have happened at any time."
In a statement issued by the university, Trustee Chairman Frank Cioffi said the Sotheby's labor dispute had nothing to do with the functions of the UVM trustees.
"Members of our Board come from various backgrounds and positions of leadership in government, business, education, nonprofit entities, and other organizations," he said. "In their volunteer service as UVM Board members, their fiduciary responsibilities are dedicated to the University of Vermont, and when they are participating in the conduct of Board business they are not engaged in any other official capacity. I am fully confident that every member of this Board is both cognizant of, and effective in, fulfilling those duties."
The protesters said Ruprecht's refusal to end the lockout at Sotheby's was inconsistent with the university's values.
UVM graduate student Nolan Rampy, one of the leaders of the protest, said the cost to Sotheby's for all 42 locked out workers was about $3 million, about the same size of a raise Ruprecht received last year.
"The students at UVM know and believe that this is out of step with the values that UVM claims to have," Rampy said. "And it's totally inappropriate for a board of trustees member who represents UVM to be doing that."