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Activists in Vermont ask Sotheby’s to end lockout

BURLINGTON, Vt. - About 50 University of Vermont students, labor leaders, and community activists told the university board of trustees yesterday 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 chief executive or resign from the board.

The activists briefly attended a trustees meeting where they chanted slogans such as “Union busting is disgusting!’’ and filed out of the room after the meeting went into executive session.

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Ruprecht did not attend the 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 press conference before the trustees meeting. “Injustice in New York is injustice in Burlington.’’

Tysh said that 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 sides was the union’s desire to ensure that new hires can continue to belong to the union.

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.

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.

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