Chateau Marmont Staff Wins Union Contract in Bruising Years-Long Battle

An extended strike and boycott has kept the iconic WeHo haunt half-empty for over a year. Can Andre Balazs’ grand hotel get its groove back?

The nightmare may be over for workers who once described the Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles’s most discreet-yet-glamorous hotel, as a “house of horrors,” with management signing off on an historic union contract.

Three years after the Chateau workers first launched and strike and boycott of the legendary WeHo haunt, and four months after unionizing with UNITE HERE Local 11, a majority of the staffers ratified the agreement with Chateau owner Andre Balazs on Wednesday.

The terms of the contract “sets a new standard for boutique hotels,” the union, which represents 32,000 hospitality workers, said in press statement Thursday.

It’s been a rough ride for the Chateau Marmont crew.

The war began in March 2020, when Balazs laid off 248 employees—virtually its entire workforce—at the start of the pandemic. Workers alleged that the glamorous hotel hid a culture of sexual harassment and racism coming from both management and guests. In July 2020, Balazs pivoted again, revealing plans to turn the hotel into a private club, where fired employees would not be re-hired.

In response, the workers got busy unionizing, striking, boycotting, and sharing ugly accounts with the media about sexual harassment, racism and general debauchery they says they suffered at the hands of both management and guests—not to mention garbage wages. This August, the Chateau Marmont voluntarily recognized their union after a majority of workers signed union cards, returning to their jobs as members of Local 11, with the bargaining committee beginning negotiations for the contract.

So, what did they get in the bargain?

  • An instant 25 percent wage increase for returning non-tipped workers, meaning that housekeepers, for example, will ear $25 an hour within one year.
  • Free family health insurance for workers who put in 60 hours or more a month.
  • A union pension fund.
  • Free legal services for immigration, consumer, and tenant issues, as hospitality workers are often particularly vulnerable to landlords, ICE, and other scourges.
  • Strong protections for immigrant workers, as immigrants account for 31 percent of the hotel and lodging industry, according to the Immigrant Forum. For instance, workers with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Dreamers) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) work authorization have 5 years to return to work should the government or Supreme Court eliminate these programs.
  • The hotel will recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday, because of the racism which—again—workers said was rampant.

Not bad at all for a “house of horrors“—one of the descriptions that came out when 30 ex-employees shared their experiences for a long and bruising story in The Hollywood Reporter.

Adrian Jules, a Black guest relations employee, had been at the Chateau for three years when he said he received a series of unsolicited, sexual text messages from a drunk, white female colleague, including an image of a used condom along with the words, “I’d just appreciate some more compassion.”

Jules told THR that when he complained, he became the victim of “constant ghosting” that went from his direct supervisor to the managing director to a young staffer who had been handed the reigns of Human Resources.

“You have to think, as a man, and a Black man specifically, if you get a message like that, you’re immediately terrified,” said Jules. “What would have happened had I sent text messages like that to her? You do what the employee handbook tells you to do, and nobody listens.”

A white worker, meanwhile, said that she, and her aesthetic, were rewarded.

“I simply was treated differently,” Gina Steffe, a white server at the Chateau for six years before the pandemic, told THR. “I was favored there: given unwarranted opportunities, privileges, sections, and shifts that my colleagues of color were not. Apparently, I fit a certain ‘look’ that Andre and the upper management preferred.”

Employees claim that racial discrimination even impacted the hotel’s Black and Latino celebrity guests, who were given second-class status. Blackish showrunner Kenya Barris and actress Tiffany Haddish were reportedly stopped, questioned, and challenged on arrival at the hotel.

“There’s an inconsistency to how that’s dealt with,” said one Black restaurant worker. “If it’s not intentional, it’s at the least a lack of care.”

Haddish’s representative confirmed that it happened twice, while Barris declined to comment.

As one ex-Marmont worker explained: “I’m reconsidering the Chateau through a totally different lens now. All of the talk of it being a ‘playground,’ of it exalting ‘privacy.’ It really was just a system that protected white men in power.”

Another former staffer recalled being made to feel unsafe at work because a guest had masturbating in front of them, but said management did nothing when they complained.

Hollywood showed mixed support for the workers. Some celebrities honored the boycott, like Aaron Sorkin who decided not to film Being the Ricardos at the Chateau after a last-minute meeting with labor leaders changed his mind.

And, according to UNITE HERE Local 11, celebrities like Gabrielle Union, Issa Rae, Samira Wiley, Robin Thede, Quinta Brunson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Ashley Nicole Black, Adam McKay and David Sirota have also supported the workers.

On the other hand, there were the celebrity scabs, for instance super-scabs Jay-Z and Beyonce who threw their Oscars afterparty in the hotel’s parking lot in March. Solidarity-busting fameballs who crossed the picket lines past shouting, dancing workers that night included Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Jon Hamm, Sean Combs, Saweetie, Michael B. Jordan, DJ Khaled, Zoë Kravitz, Winnie Harlow and French Montana.

In a statement to LAMag on Friday, Andre Balazs said, “The Chateau Marmont is pleased to announce that it has signed a collective bargaining agreement with UNITH HERE Local 11. We believe that this 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.  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.”

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