Uovo Fine Art Fires Pro-Union Employees, Blames COVID-19
Teamsters File Charges Seeking Reinstatement of Workers
Key Organizers, Permanently Laid Off, Rest of Workforce Told To Stay Home and Get Paid
Yesterday, Teamsters Local 814 filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the Queens-based Uovo Fine Art. According to workers, the company last week informed its workforce that due to the pandemic all employees would be asked to remain at home, on stand-by, and would be paid until further notice. Seven art handlers, however, were not extended that benefit and were instead told they were being permanently laid off with no recall rights.
Six of the seven permanently laid off workers played key roles in last year’s effort to win union recognition and improve working conditions. Two of them are former Teamster union members — both of whom were known for their early and vocal support of the union as well as their regular wearing of union jackets and union buttons.
“This is clear retaliation,” said fired union supporter Peter Mackay, an over 5 year driver and art handler. “Just because you wait 6 months and do it under the cover of a global pandemic, doesn’t make it any less obvious. It just makes it more heinous.”
Mackay is now experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms and is seeking medical care after performing work for Uovo after non-essential work was banned in New York State. “That shows you what they’re about. Not only have I been there longer than most other employees, and not only did I potentially get infected helping the company with a job that they thought was so important that it had to be done even after most other Uovo staff were working from home, but now I’m out of a job for speaking my mind and fighting for a union.”
Another fired worker, Henry “David” Martinez — an over 6 year warehouse worker and art handler — was the young company’s longest-tenured art handler as well as a publicly vocal supporter of the union drive. Martinez regularly engaged management on the question of unionization, often appeared in social media supporting the movement of his co-workers, and continued to wear Teamster ensignia on the job and agitate for a union even after the narrowly unsuccessful vote last October.
“The company thinks they’re being clever by waiting to fire union supporters when they think things have died down,” Martinez added. “But look around, read the papers, things are not dying down. Workers are fighting back and organizing and striking all over the country. The days of companies like Uovo and Amazon getting away with violating workers’ rights and retaliating against free speech are numbered.”
Uovo services some of the wealthiest art collectors and institutions in New York City yet had recently requested and received over $17 million in tax-payer assistance for its purchase and renovation of a 4th art storage warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Local 814 leaders had previously demanded — during last season’s union push by the art handlers — that City officials investigate the funding and consider adopting stronger labor protections on existing and future subsidies.
“These new, illegal actions put that issue right back on the table,” said Julian Tysh, Political Coordinator for Teamsters Local 814. “Tell me, why a company that breaks the law by targeting pro-union workers should be given a multi-million dollar handout from the City? We look forward not only to justice prevailing and these art handlers being reinstated, but also to working with our friends in the legislature and on the City Council to make sure working New Yorkers are no longer subsidizing union-busting.”