Workers who picketed Jay-Z’s Oscar party win union contract at Chateau Marmont

Hotel workers at the famed Chateau Marmont voted unanimously to ratify their first union contract Wednesday evening.

The iconic Hollywood hangout had been the target of a boycott campaign after the hotel abruptly laid off most of its workers with no severance pay and only a brief expansion of health benefits at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Earlier this year, laid-off employees picketed an Oscar night party hosted at the hotel by rapper Jay-Z.

The new union contract takes effect immediately. It includes a 25 percent wage increase, a pension fund, protections and free legal services for immigrants, recognition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday and other benefits, according to United Here Local 11, which represents the workers.

“It’s an outstanding deal and the workers are thrilled,” said Unite Here Local 11 Co-President Kurt Petersen.

The new contract also gives workers free family health insurance for anyone clocking 60 or more hours a month, which is standard at hotels represented by Unite Here. The union represents 32,000 employees at hotels, restaurants, airports, sports stadiums and convention centers in Southern California and Arizona.

“I am very proud that my co-workers and I will be able to return to work at Chateau Marmont while providing a safe and dignified life for our families,” Walter Almendarez, Chateau Marmont’s butler for 26 years, said in a statement.

André Balazs, owner of the Chateau Marmont, had previously fought to prevent his workers from unionizing. But in August, the hotel voluntarily recognized the union, and contract negotiations began this fall.

“The Chateau Marmont is pleased to announce that it has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with UNITE HERE Local 11,” Balazs said in a statement. “We believe this reinforces the foundation of Chateau’s historic success: the hotel’s commitment to its guests and employees, both of whom are renowned for their loyalty and longevity.”

The long Chateau Marmont, which sits on a hill overlooking Sunset Boulevard, was originally an apartment complex in the 1920s before becoming a hotel in 1931. It has been a favorite hangout of actors and celebrities, such as Greta Garbo, Hunter S. Thompson, Howard Hughes, James Dean and Lindsay Lohan, and the hotel where John Belushi died of an overdose is also famous.

The ratification of the union contract comes after years of turmoil at the hotel.

The hotel was accused of racial discrimination in a 2021 lawsuit by a former employee who said management promoted mostly whites to the most coveted positions while workers of color were stuck in low-paying, behind-the-scenes jobs.

A company spokesman said the litigation was “settled” in August.

Last December, civil rights leaders held a vigil at the hotel, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference echoed labor calls for celebrities to boycott the Chateau Marmont.

Ultimately, the SCLC helped mediate the dispute, according to union and hotel representatives.

“We recognize and thank the Southern California Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose president and CEO, Pastor D. William Smart, Jr., brought the parties together earlier this year in a spirit of fellowship and cooperation,” Balazs said in a statement.

When workers return to Chateau Marmont after more than two years without work, union protections will likely make for a fundamentally changed workplace. A Hollywood Reporter article published in 2020 described complaints from more than 30 hotel workers, including allegations of sexual misconduct.

The new contract has “very strong protections around panic buttons and reporting sexual harassment incidents,” Petersen said. “The workers more than anything else have a voice.”

Times writer Hugo Martin contributed to this report.

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