Fired Chateau Marmont Workers Finally Get Their Union

Chateau Marmont employees are going back to work with the support of a union after more than two years of struggle and celebrity scabs

For 90 years, the saying went, “If you want to be seen, go to the Beverly Hills Hotel. If you don’t want to be seen, go to Chateau Marmont.”

The castle-like property offered privacy as well as glamour and was the stuff of Hollywood legend; Howard Hughes, Jean Harlow, and Vivian Leigh haunted the hotel’s 63 rooms; Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate got pregnant there; Lucy and Desi moved in and out, John Belushi died of a speedball overdose in Bungalow No. 3. But since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, the hotel has become known for something else entirely: owner Andre Balazs fired nearly the entire workforce, and later announced plans to turn the storied property into a private timeshare.

As of August 25, however, the Chateau Marmont workers will be returning to their jobs as members of UNITE HERE Local 11, the union announced Thursday. The bargaining committee will soon begin negotiations for their first contract.

“Having a union means I will be able to provide a better future for [my daughter] and make her proud,” Walter Almendarez, a Chateau Marmont bellman of 23 years, said in a statement from UNITE HERE.

Martha Moran, a room attendant, says a union contract will enable her to retire. “Housekeeping is a tough job, and veteran housekeepers like myself usually have a hard time planning for retirement,” she said. “I am glad to be returning to the Chateau Marmont with a union that will help me retire with dignity and respect.”

It’s been a long fight.

The dispute began in March 2020, when Balazs laid off 248 employees 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, Balazs revealed plans to turn the hotel into a private club, where fired employees would not be re-hired.

“In March 2020, the famed Chateau Marmont fired virtually its entire workforce,” the union said in a statement. “Workers who dedicated decades of their lives to the hotel were left without job security or affordable healthcare in the middle of the pandemic.”

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to more than 30 staffers in September of 2020 about their experiences, including accusations of a restaurant supervisor who lobbed ethnic slurs at Latino kitchen workers for years, who in turn didn’t feel they had the power to complain, and a housekeeper who reported a masturbating guest to her manager, who allowed the guest to keep visiting.

“[Management] made me believe that they were going to deal with it, but they didn’t do anything,” the woman, Sonia Molina Sanchez, told THR.

Cahu, an employee who worked in guest relations, said that in his experience, “Black people weren’t taken care of as much as white people.”

The hotel’s former workers organized a boycott to air their grievances and to pressure management. Hollywood received the labor action against the legendary party spot with varying levels of support—from zero to some.

In April 2021, Aaron Sorkin cancelled plans to film scenes for Being the Ricardos at Chateau Marmont rather than cross a picket line of laid-off employees.

On March 28 of this year, on the other hand, Jay-Z hosted a star-studded Oscars after-party at the Chateau, an offer so buzzy it made scabs out of stars such as Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Jon Hamm, Sean Combs, Zoë Kravitz, Michael B. Jordan, DJ Khaled, Rihanna, Winnie Harlow, French Montana and Troy Kotsur.

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