Chateau Marmont workers unionize; hotel niches membership plan

The owner of the famous Chateau Marmont has agreed to let his workers unionize and abandoned plans to convert the Hollywood hangout for the rich and beautiful to a members-only hotel.

The agreement to allow employees to be represented by Unite Here Local 11 was announced Thursday by the labor organization and the hotel owner after a neutral arbitrator validated the results of a vote by the hotel’s 64 workers to join the union. The owner, entrepreneur Andre Balazs, had previously fought to keep his workers from unionizing.

“Both the Chateau Marmont and Unite Here Local 11 are pleased with the new relationship,” the two sides said in a mutual statement. “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.”

Unite Here represents 32,000 employees in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention centers in Southern California and Arizona. The union is expected to soon begin negotiating contract terms for its workers with Chateau Marmont.

In 2020, Balazs announced plans to convert the hotel into a members-only establishment, where a select clientele could purchase shares, pay management fees and, in exchange, get extended access to the property. Perks would have included use of a private dining room, access to personal butlers and the freedom to leave belongings in the rooms for days on end.

Through a spokesperson, Balazs said he planned to expand the concept to properties “in key urban centers like London, New York, Milan, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo, etc.”

Neither side offered an explanation for why Balazs abandoned his plan to convert to a members-only hotel, but a spokesperson for Balazs noted that travel demand has rebounded in recent months. “Demand is definitely back,” said spokesman Bill Harrison.

In June, operating profit per available room at US hotels reached its highest level since October 2019, according to a study by the hotel data company STR. Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange County were among the top markets in profits per room, according to the study.

When the pandemic first struck, Chateau Marmont abruptly fired most of its workers with no severance pay and only a brief extension of health benefits. For years, Unite Here has pushed to unionize the workers there and led a call for celebrities to boycott the hotel. That included a picket of a star-studded Oscar night party hosted at the Chateau by rapper Jay-Z.

“The workers at Chateau Marmont, like so many more, lost their jobs,” said union co-president Kurt Petersen. “But they never lose hope. They led the fight to pass right-to-return-to-work laws in California and now they are [in a] union They are heroes of this pandemic.”

By unionizing, Petersen said, the workers will enjoy better pay, benefits and job protections. “We expect all of those improvements at this hotel,” he said.

The agreement with the union is the latest development in a long drama involving the 93-year-old hotel.

The hotel was sued for alleged racial discrimination in 2021 by a former employee who claimed management primarily promoted white people to the most coveted positions while workers of color were stuck in lower-paid, behind-the-scenes jobs. Hotel representatives have declined to comment on the lawsuit, which is still pending.

A Hollywood Reporter article published in 2020 chronicled the complaints of several workers at the hotel, including allegations of sexual misconduct.

The castle-like hotel, built on a hill overlooking Sunset Boulevard, was originally an apartment complex in the 1920s before it was converted to a hotel in 1931. It has been a favorite hangout of actors and celebrities including Greta Garbo, Hunter S. Thompson , Howard Hughes, James Dean, John Belushi, and Lindsay Lohan.

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