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It’s over. Four months after unionizing — and three years since a nascent organizing drive quietly began before the pandemic hit — workers at the Chateau Marmont have ratified their first contract following negotiations with owner André Balazs. UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents more than 32,000 hospitality employees, now including those at the legendary Sunset Strip lodging, said the agreement “sets a new standard for boutique hotels.”
The deal features an immediate 25 percent wage increase for returning non-tipped workers (housekeepers will earn $25 an hour within one year); free family health insurance for workers who work a minimum of 60 hours per month; free legal services for immigration, consumer and tenant issues; and unprecedented protections for immigrants — workers with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Dreamers) or Temporary Protected Status authorizations have five years to return should Congress or the Supreme Court eliminate the programs.
“The Chateau definitely negotiated in good faith,” says union co-president Kurt Petersen. “It’s rare to achieve a contract so quickly, especially a first contract. They deserve enormous credit for that.” He notes that the Chateau’s contract provisions are in line with the more generous terms of bigger hotel chains, making it a standout in the boutique space. UNITE HERE Local 11 has also organized, among others, the W hotels in Hollywood and Westwood, as well as the Viceroy in Santa Monica, Mr. C in Beverly Hills and the Hotel Figueroa in downtown L.A.
The agreement allows the Chateau a clear runway for awards-season events. Last year’s on-site Gold Party, hosted by Jay-Z and now considered the preeminent invite on Oscar night, was picketed. (Afterward, guest Rosario Dawson publicly resolved not to return until employee disputes were “resolved.”)
Terms of the new deal will also see workers participate in the union’s pension fund, and the hotel to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday, making it one of the first hotels to do so. In September 2020, employees shared with The Hollywood Reporter a variety of systemic workplace concerns, including racial bias in hiring and promotion, racist treatment of guests, as well as racist comments alleged to have been made by the then-managing director toward staff. There is now a new managing director, and multiple civil lawsuits that were subsequently filed alleging racial discrimination have since been settled.
“We believe that this [agreement] reinforces the foundation of the Chateau’s historic success: the hotel’s commitment to its guests and employees, both of which are famous for their loyalty and longevity,” Balazs said in a statement. “We recognize and thank the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, whose president and CEO, Pastor D. William Smart Jr., brought the parties together earlier this year in a spirit of fellowship and cooperation.”
The Chateau has — like the rest of the hospitality industry — been severely affected by the pandemic’s economic toll. But also, by the outspoken revolt of its workers, in a field defined by discretion, exposing an unpleasant side of a world-renown institution that prizes its cultivated brand of luxe hedonism and louche cool.
While there had already been fledgling discussions about unionization before the COVID-19 crisis, the inciting incident occurred at its onset, when employees were laid off without severance packages or extended health insurance. Many staffers had been with the company for decades; 248 workers were let go in the spring of 2020. In August, when the hotel unionized, there were 64 employees, 48 of whom had been with the hotel pre-COVID.
Walter Almendarez, a bellman with 26 years’ experience and leader of the Chateau organizing effort, said in a statement: “I am so proud that my coworkers and I will be returning to work at the Chateau Marmont while providing a secure and dignified life for our families.”
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