Protest blames trustees

  Dozens of students, faculty and community members gathered in the Davis Center Feb. 3 to protest against the actions of Bill Ruprecht, a member of the Board of Trustees blamed for a lockout on New York laborers.   Ruprecht, CEO of Sotheby’s, was the target of the rally because 42 of his company’s art dealers have been out of work after their union contract expired and contract negotiations failed to meet a resolution, according to the Burlington Free Press.   Ralliers filed into the Livak Ballroom, holding up signs in front of the Board of Trustees, while one protestor spoke to the board about the wrongs he felt Ruprecht had committed.   The Board waited a few minutes before calling for a motion to go into executive session, forcing the group to leave the room.   President of the Board of Trustees Robert Cioffi said in a statement that members of the board come from various backgrounds and positions of leadership, but when they are participating in Board business, they are dedicated to the University.   “I recognize that there are strongly held views with respect to the labor dispute at Sotheby’s, which is in proper channels for resolution with a federal mediator,” Cioffi said. “That matter is in no way related to the functions and responsibilities of the UVM Board of Trustees.”   After the protestors exited the meeting, they recollected on the first floor of the Davis Center and took turns addressing the crowd through a call and response “mic check.”   “The board knows how to answer what we’re asking, but they choose not to,” said James Leas, a South Burlington lawyer.   For English professor Helen Scott, the protest is fundamentally about justice.   “This movement embodies injustices and inequalities that people are fighting with across the world,” she said. “We are fighting for good jobs for you, the students. We won’t accept this; it’s just wrong.”   When asked if Ruprecht’s absence affected the protesters, community member Brad Hartley said it didn’t matter because the message was still delivered.   “He knew about the rally, and, being the political animal he is, didn’t show up,” Hartley said.   Julian Tysh, one of the art handlers who has been unemployed since June, contacted UVM’s Students for University Democracy requesting a student movement against Ruprecht as a member of the Board, graduate student Nolan Rampy said.   The Students for University Democracy organized the rally because they think Ruprecht is taking advantage of his workers, Rampy said.   “Ruprecht has raised his own salary 3 million dollars to a total of 6 million dollars, and this is all while asking art handlers who are making barely over 40,000 a year to take a pay cut,” he said.   Sotheby’s spent $2.4 million to hire temporary workers during the lockout, which is about equal to the total annual paychecks of 42 employees, Rampy said.   “If that’s not evidence that this isn’t about money or finances, I don’t know what is,” he said.   The Students for University of Democracy said this issue should be important to students because Ruprecht does not align with the University’s values.   “Our argument is that what he’s doing right now, the shameless attack on the working class people, is out of line of what UVM claims to aspire to,” Rampy said.