The famed Chateau Marmont, a perennially trendy industry hangout which had turned radioactive in recent years over toxic workplace allegations, is set to unionize, according to a joint memo released by owner Andre Balazs and the co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, which had long been seeking to organize the hotel. “All prior disputes have been laid to rest,” they wrote in the statement, released on Aug. 25. “Both the Chateau Marmont and UNITE HERE Local 11 are pleased with this new relationship. We believe that it solidifies the foundation of the Chateau’s historic success: the commitment to its guests and employees, both of which are famous for their loyalty and longevity.”
A bargaining committee will now begin negotiations on a first contract.
The iconic Sunset Strip lodging had faced years of lawsuits, protests and a celebrity-backed boycott. Employees had described a pattern of sexual misconduct, racial discrimination and neglectful management.
Balazs, a pioneering hospitality impresario (also known for his influential vision at the trendy Standard chain, as well as the chic Mercer in Manhattan), has helped shape the boutique hotel market in recent decades. He’s been synonymous with the Chateau since he acquired it in 1990, and has been a sybaritic, swashbuckling presence on the property, known for attracting the likes of Naomi Campbell, Uma Thurman, Cameron Diaz, Kylie Minogue and Chelsea Handler. (In 2004 he divorced Katie Ford, the modeling heiress who remains his silent partner at the Chateau.)
UNITE HERE Local 11, a powerful force amid California’s dominant Democratic politics, represents more than 32,000 hospitality workers, including employees at the unionized Andaz West Hollywood, the Beverly Hilton and the JW Marriott LA LIVE. It’s a remarkably pugnacious labor organization that’s demanded panic buttons at the Mr. C hotel in Beverly Hills and decried the financing of several boutique Hollywood lodgings via a federal program that awards visas to foreign investors.
The union had attempted to organize the hotel without success over the past decade. The most recent concerted effort had quietly begun in the months before the COVID-19 crisis began. But Balazs’ decision at the onset of the pandemic to lay off 248 workers — some who’d been employed at the Chateau for several decades — without providing severance packages or extended health insurance brought newfound energy to the campaign. (The hotel currently has 64 employees, 48 of which had been with the Chateau prior to the pandemic in early 2020.) Soon after the dismissals, in what some staff believed to be a ploy to undercut their momentum, Balazs announced his intention to turn their property into a private timeshare.
In response, the Chateau workers, famed for their discretion, spoke out in September 2020 about their toxic experiences working at the property and, specifically, under Balazs, who’d previously been accused of sexual assault against a prominent guest at his London lodging, the Chiltern. Dozens of employees told The Hollywood Reporter about a purported pattern of racial discrimination, sexual misconduct, and neglectful management. Later, several former staffers filed civil lawsuits alleging the same.
The union soon enlisted celebrity support for a boycott, which grew to include the petition-signing likes of Jane Fonda, Alfonso Cuarón, Lena Headey, Edie Falco, Adam McKay, Gabrielle Union, Issa Rae, Constance Zimmer, Eliza Dushku and Alison Pill. A slew of picketing protests were held at the foot of the hotel’s driveway, capped by a raucous rally against Jay-Z’s star-studded Oscar night Gold Party on Mar. 27 of this year. Participants blocked VIP entry points and arrivals were met with shouts of “Shame on you!”
The union, relying on public support from entertainment industry labor allies in the guilds and Teamsters, also publicly pressured multiple productions — including Being the Ricardos and The Offer — to cancel shoots planned on the hotel’s grounds.
Balazs declined to offer further comment. In a statement, Petersen added: “The pandemic devastated tourism workers. The workers at Chateau Marmont, like so many more, lost their jobs. But they never lost hope. They led the fight to pass right to return to work laws in California and now they are Union. They are heroes of this pandemic. We thank the incredible solidarity from our brothers and sisters at SAG AFTRA, IATSE, DGA, WGA, and IBT 399, as well as elected and religious leaders. Finally, I commend the Chateau Marmont for taking on this challenge and working with us to establish a new partnership that we hope will become a model for our industry.”
Only a portion of the Chateau’s pre-COVID-era employee base have been brought back to work. The pandemic affected business, but so did the labor battle, and Balazs and Petersen’s joint statement acknowledged that the two sides had “reached an understanding that will allow the hotel to return to its normal level of operations.”
Two leaders of the unionization effort are awaiting notice of their return. One, Walter Almendarez, a bellman of 23 years, said in a statement: “My daughter was my biggest inspiration to organize the union. When I started, my daughter was just six months old, now she is almost three years old. Having a union means I will be able to provide a better future for her and make her proud.” Another, veteran room attendant Martha Moran, explained in a statement of her own: “Housekeeping is a tough job and veteran housekeepers like myself usually have a hard time planning for retirement. I am glad to be returning to the Chateau Marmont with a union that will help me retire with dignity and respect.”