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NYC Officials Decry Anti-Union Campaign at Leading Art Storage Company

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other city and state elected officials are throwing their support behind workers organizing a union at New York City’s largest art storage company, UOVO, which stores and transports art for city-funded institutions like The Metropolitan Museum. The local leaders sent a letter to the company’s founder and CEO demanding that they “drop the anti-union campaign immediately and recognize your workers’ union.”

The letter was signed by Johnson, State Senator Julia Salazar, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Council Member Keith Powers, and Council Member Ben Kallos, who all represent districts where UOVO’s warehouses or its customers are located.

“If UOVO persists in these aggressive and coercive tactics and refuses to recognize the union,” the leaders wrote, “we believe the next steps are … for elected officials to begin an investigation of how city funding, through the EDC but also through publicly-funded museums that do business with UOVO, can be cut off.”

The UOVO workers are organizing a union with Teamsters Local 814, the city’s union for professional movers and art handlers.  In September, the workers, accompanied by State Senator Salazar and Local 814 President Jason Ide, preempted an all-staff meeting that had been called to coerce employees to not exercise their federal rights to form a union. Simultaneously, workers at the company’s Rockland County warehouses donned union buttons in support of a union at all UOVO locations.

The workers are employed at UOVO’s three warehouses in Long Island City and Rockland County. They store, pack, transport, and install priceless works of art for a very high-end clientele. They are organizing for affordable family health-care, better safety protections, and a real retirement plan. Workers at UOVO are currently only provided “access” to a 401k plan with zero percent matching funds from the company.

A fourth UOVO facility is planned for Bushwick, Brooklyn, and will benefit from nearly $17 million in subsidies from New York City.

“These workers have withstood an aggressive campaign of intimidation and misinformation by their employer, but they are standing strong,” said Teamsters Local 814 President Jason Ide. “UOVO makes money storing and transporting art for socially-progressive organizations like The Rubin Museum and The Met, and prides themselves on being a cutting edge-contemporary operation, but their vulgar attempt at union busting is straight out of the past. It has no place in an art world that is increasingly unionizing and finally giving the proper respect to its indispensable art handlers.”

“The support these workers are getting from the art world, the public, and elected officials proves that these workers are not alone,” Ide continued. “They are part of a movement to bring workers in the art world out from the shadows of loading docks and warehouses and into the light. They will soon be respected as the professionals that they are and will achieve the legal protections and benefits that so many other union workers in our city enjoy.”

Art handlers at UOVO are joining a movement of cultural workers who have unionized in the last year alone — at MOMA PS1, The New Museum, The Guggenheim, and The Tenement Museum, among others.