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Starving Artists Fed Up; Seek To Establish Industry Standards With Teamsters Local 705 (Chicago, IL)

April 9, 2014



Artists Aim for Union Precedent Same Day as Northwestern Football Players

(Chicago) – Art handlers with Mana-Terry Dowd LLC may set an industry precedent this month by being the first employees of a major art transportation company in Chicago to unionize.

Approximately 31 high-end art handlers will vote whether to join Teamsters Local 705 on April 25 — the same day Northwestern University football players also could change the face of union membership by organizing with the College Athletes Players Association. Like Northwestern’s group, the majority of Mana-Terry Dowd workers are young professionals — art graduates in their mid-20s and 30s eager to set standards where they work.

The art handlers, who transport and install priceless works for anyone from private collectors to the Art Institute of Chicago, represent the latest in a national trend to organize the art world. In 2012, 42 Teamsters at Sotheby’s in New York ended a 10-month lockout with a three-year union contract. In 2011, Teamsters as well negotiated higher starting salaries for workers at Christie’s auction house.

Most recently, the Teamsters reached a deal on April 9 with Frieze New York, one of the city’s most successful art fairs, to begin using union labor at the high-profile event. For Mana-Terry Dowd employees, Chicago’s expansive arts community is the next logical destination for unionization.

“If not now, when?” said 24-year-old Chloe Seibert, who works in Mana-Terry Dowd’s Logan Square warehouse. “Because we’re seen as artists and not laborers, a lot of workers in the art industry aren’t being compensated properly for the job they do. Employers today have a large pool of applicants to choose from and unfortunately big private companies tend to take advantage of that. They know they can get away with giving you less.”

Wages for Mana-Terry Dowd workers begin at $14 per hour, though more than 70 percent of its workforce walks in with a Master’s degree. For 27-year-old Neal Vandenbergh, who’s been with the company for 18 months, wages for art industry jobs fall far below the costs of education and certification needed to obtain them.

“Young people are expected to begin their careers this way — at a minus financially. Graduates entering the job market are saddled with debt,” said Vandenbergh, who works in all aspects of art transportation, from truck driving to exhibition. “This industry needs a union voice. Labor standards haven’t caught up to the speed at which the art market in America has grown.”

While employees want fair wages in the industry, worker mistreatment is at the forefront of the Mana-Terry Dowd union campaign. The Teamsters have several unfair labor practice charges against the company pending before the National Labor Relations Board. Management has been charged with threatening to fire or discriminate against workers who support the union, threatening to eliminate positions entirely, interrogating employees and purposefully including supervisors in the bargaining unit of eligible voters.

For art handlers trying to improve workplace conditions, joining the Teamsters only makes sense.

“These are well-educated individuals performing physically demanding jobs. In cities like New York and Chicago, the Teamsters have established industry standards for thousands of workers in transportation, whether our members are behind the wheel of a truck or moving commercial property,” said Juan Campos, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 705. “Mana-Terry Dowd employees are taking a stand where there typically haven’t been many protections for workers. It’s a noble effort.”

Terry Dowd has handled fine art and artifacts since 1978, but the company merged with Mana Contemporary LLC in February to form the current venture. Its employees routinely move work for Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and travel regionally for larger installations, such as a recent move of the University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archeology collection.

Seibert just moved mixed-media American artist David Hammons’ glass basketball hoop, which sold at auction in 2013 for $8 million. It’s just the kind of workload that speaks volumes to the art handlers’ need for union representation.

“Who is a stereotypical union member? A builder, a mover, a truck driver?” Seibert said. “As art handlers, we do all of that and more. Forget the stereotypes. I want to have a say in my wages and working conditions, to be included in the conversation. I want to take hold of my future.”


Art School Graduates Seek a Teamster Local 705 Contract at Mana Terry Dowd 


Chicago— 04/08/14 Teamsters and artists may seem like an unlikely combination, but professional artists at Chicago’s Mana Terry Dowd fine art packers and movers are organizing in an effort to begin to establish income and benefit standards in their profession. The artists are set to vote on April 25 in an election administered by the National Labor Relations Board. Upon graduating with a degree in art, professional artists are faced with few employment options. Even after receiving debt-burdening advanced degrees, these highly talented and skilled artists vie for a professorship or to make it big in the art scene. In the meantime, postgraduate artist are typically faced with two remaining low-wage choices; to work as an assistant at an art gallery, or to become an art handler as with Mana Terry Dowd. These jobs often pay little more than fast- food wages.

Companies like Mana Terry Dowd hire well-educated professional artists for the packaging and moving of pieces of fine art. Mana Terry Dowd knows that their art handlers treat their customer’s property safely and with respect. However, these artists who move these pieces don’t make enough to survive; yet the job options available are so limited that they have little choice but to continue working in adverse and difficult working conditions in which they are not viewed as professionals.

Mana Terry Dowd is opposing the Teamsters’ efforts to help professional art handlers in making their job one they can thrive in. Mana Terry Dowd is suspected of including managers and supervisors as eligible voters in the upcoming election in an effort to undermine the art handlers’ organizing efforts. Teamsters Local 705 plans to challenge Mana Terry Dowd’s actions at the National Labor Relations Board, but often even that doesn’t stop Mana Terry Dowd and companies like them from dealing dirty with their professional art handlers.

Do Teamsters and artists still seem like an odd pair? They aren’t; art school graduates are organizing with the Teamsters because it is time to stand up for their profession and demand the wages and benefits that a highly educated and skilled artist deserves.

Teamsters Local 705 Chicago

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Carl Fleming permalink
    November 10, 2015 2:22 AM

    I wonder if you would do a follow up on this and ask the original leaders how many people have quit. I have sided with the non union voters who were gainfully employed and happy for more than 10 years. Its a shame that these young art students think they could walk in and smear Terry Dowd. You should have really made your report on the other half

  2. August 6, 2014 1:29 AM

    how’d all that union shit turn out? how about an update?

  3. San Juanita permalink
    April 11, 2014 3:49 PM

    It is a legal fact that MTD included managers and supervisors as eligible voters in the upcoming election. The parties never agreed to the specific names of people that could vote, but only the specific classifications. Both parties agreed to specifically exclude managers and supervisors from the list of eligible voters, as is required by law. MTD came up with the list of names of eligible voters on its own, which is typical. Therefore, when MTD inappropriately included several names of supervisors and managers on the list of eligible voters it provided the Federal government, Local 705 was surprised. This was an apparent attempt to undermine art handler’s organizing efforts.

    San Juanita Gonzalez

    • Gordon Freeman permalink
      April 16, 2014 2:52 AM

      I am a Union Supporter at the company, and this just isn’t true at all.

  4. April 11, 2014 2:32 AM

    I have worked for Terry Dowd Inc. for 13+ years and am currently working there now in the midst of the possible unionization of what is now Mana/Terry Dowd LLC. (the company Terry Dowd Inc. was recently purchased and we have essentially merged with Mana Contemporary). I am an hourly employee and have been so ever since I was hired and am a “proper” or “official” art handler. I would just like to make a few comments about the recent press release from the Teamster Local 705 about the situation we are currently in and their interpretation of the conditions and the practices of the company. I will also say, I am sympathetic to many of my fellow
    employees reasons for wanting to unionize, though I am staunchly against

    I will refer to Mana/Terry Dowd LLC. as Terry Dowd Inc. or TDI. for all intents and purposes since Mana Contemporary’s involvement is so new and essentially hands off at the moment and it would seem the reasoning for unionization stems from issues related to Terry Dowd Inc. pre Mana. I would say that the merger of Mana/Terry Dowd LLC. was viewed by many as a potential fresh restart, a very positive change and an opening for opportunity and reward by many of the employees before the filing of unionization.

    I can speak from experience that TDI has always paid far ABOVE minimum wage, because before working at TDI, I worked for minimum wage. Over the years TDI has raised it’s starting wage for it’s storage, crating, and art handling departments far above the wage I started at and it has never been close to “fast food wages”. Also, to compare TDI to the compensation that you would earn working for a gallery is also LAUGHABLE.

    I have fair health care benefits (now with tiered options, instead of just one option), a 401K which has been available to us at for least 10+ years, a very flexible time off (unpaid if no PT was available) request policy for employees to pursue touring with bands, artist residencies, short teaching opportunities, or preparing for upcoming gallery shows – just to name just a few. We have always been given a Christmas bonus, and though they have always seemed meager in comparison my my friends or families Christmas bonuses, they were always appreciated. TDI has always provided other “niceties” for it’s employees as well, and though they may be too minor to mention here, they certainly were not in Terry Dowd’s best interest or benefit to offer these things to us.

    My “options” for employment as an artist (or what most might consider a *failed artist, which holds no shame for me) were always MY decision. No one forced me to work for TDI, just as no one forced me to choose to go to school to be an artist with slim to nil odds of making a survivable wage on that alone, and I don’t hold TDI at fault for the Teamsters or anyone’s opinion that the company doesn’t provide a living wage to me, because it’s simply not true. I’m surviving just fine, if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have stayed with the company as long as I have. I am also not an anomaly, Terry Dowd employs MANY employees who have been with him 10+ years, and many of those work in the service depts. and at an hourly rate.

    Do I believe Terry Dowd Inc. has been a perfect utopian company on par with Google? No. I have disagreed with many, many, decisions over the years that I have worked there. I have seen things I didn’t think were fair or lacked thought or vision. I have felt that I have been “unheard” many times. But through all of the negative things I have seen and been through, I have always seen the potential, positives, and had the belief that through even the darkest of times the company has faced or the poorest of decisions that were made, cooler heads would prevail and the right decision would eventually make it’s way to solve the issues at hand. Sometimes this was the case, but unfortunately not always.

    At first I found Teamsters Local 705 and Lead Organizer San Juanita Gonzalez press release an eye rolling piece of simple and transparent propaganda. Unfortunately, I also am cognizant of the world we live in and am fast learning the game of influence that goes hand in hand with organizing labor, be it for or against. Though it’s not my place to put out a press release on behalf of Mana/Terry Dowd LLC., I won’t sit by and let the Teamsters (who stands to gain financially) propagate a situation to the public which is full of half truths and painted as if we live a Dicken’s tale existence day in and day out.

    I would also like to say Lead Organizer San Juanita Gonzalez comment that “The company has added management and supervisors onto voter eligibility list, in order to offset the number of art handlers,” doesn’t jive from what I understand, the Teamsters agreed to the list of eligible employees and I can confirm that none of them are managers or supervisors. All I have ever heard from the Teamsters Lead Organizer is that ANY hourly employee was eligible for the union vote, a vote which will effect them all. That seems fair doesn’t it? …but I guess the devil’s in the details.

    • April 11, 2014 10:38 AM

      CF, it’s nice to hear you. Having done my share of organizing in America and France (though not with the Teamsters), let me respond as fairly as you have:

      1) Unions are not angels; neither are bosses. Sometimes in fact the unions and the boss have more in common with each other than with the workers. Unfortunately it often takes the boss a little while to figure this out.

      2) The considerable advantage of a union (for a worker, who cares about the boss), is that it acts as a necessary counterweight to the bosses’s power. You say you’re happy with your boss: I’m happy for you. Sooner or later you’re going to need that counterweight. Sooner or later you’ll have a new boss who’s out to get you, or the company will decide to “retire” you by any means necessary. Sooner or later you’ll be turned down for a raise. My hunch is, the day you see your first union paycheck is the day you’re going to be glad you joined.

      3) Don’t be fooled by the organizing rhetoric. Unions always spit fire when they’re trying to get the workers organized. They have to, organizing, too, is a hideously expensive investment, with poor chances of a return. Plus, in America the unions have always relied on radical elements (Trotskyites, CP members, Anarcho-Syndicalists like myself) to do the dirty work for them. After certification the bureaucrats take over, the radicals move in or get purged, and life settles down. I say this for the benefit of all the radicals. I know whereof I speak.

      4) Bottom line: rather a union than no union. No less, no more.


      Paul Werner, PhD, DSFS (Danger to the Security of the French State)

  5. April 11, 2014 12:47 AM

    art packers and movers are organizing are not spoiled rich kids – some folks don’t take time to read before knee jerking about something.

  6. MR. permalink
    April 10, 2014 9:48 PM

    sometime you should just be happy to have a job. i wonder if its the entire company or just a couple of rich kids whining about not making enough money?

  7. April 9, 2014 4:49 PM

    Reblogged this on theresa easton and commented:
    There are plenty similarities here with UK based arts organisations employing graduate students and paying 15p above the UK Living Wage on zero hour contracts….

  8. April 9, 2014 4:00 PM

    Thanks, Corina!

    BTW: the part about including managers and supervisors: I’ve found in my own days as a union organizer that the union that’s organizing the rank-and-file is concerned that if they allow alleged supervisory personnel into the bargaining unit that will weaken their vote tally when it comes down to voting in the union. Unfortunately, it often turns out that the supervisors are as eager to join the union as the rank-and-file. While it’s a bad idea to have the supervisors and the people they supervise in the same union, I personally don’t feel they should be written off from the git-go when you’re organizing. Frequently they turn out to be the strongest supporters the union has. But that’s just strategy.


    Paul Werner

  9. April 9, 2014 3:54 PM

    Reblogged this on Ned Hamson Second Line View of the News.


  1. Se puede vivir del arte? | [esferapública]
  2. Starving Artists Fed Up; Seek To Establish Industry Standards With Teamsters Local 705 (Chicago, IL) | ArtLeaks | Ned Hamson Second Line View of the News


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