Workers at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont win first union contract
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 fired most of its workers with no severance pay and only a brief extension of health benefits at the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Earlier this year, laid-off employees picketed the Oscar-night party hosted at the hotel by rapper Jay-Z.
The new union contract goes into effect immediately. It includes a 25% wage increase, a pension fund, protections and free legal services for immigrants, recognition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday and other benefits, according to Unite Here Local 11, which represents the workers.
“It’s an exceptional agreement, and workers are thrilled,” said Unite Here Local 11 Co-President Kurt Petersen.
The new contract also gives workers free family health insurance for anyone spending 60 hours or more per month on the clock, which is the standard at hotels represented by Unite Here. The union represents 32,000 employees in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention centers in Southern California and Arizona.
The owner of the famed Chateau Marmont agrees to let its workers unionize and abandons plans to convert the celebrity hangout to a members-only hotel.
“I am so proud that my co-workers and I will be able to return to work at the Chateau Marmont while providing a secure and dignified life for our families,” Walter Almendarez, a bellperson at Chateau Marmont for 26 years, said in a statement.
André Balazs, owner of the Chateau Marmont, had previously fought to keep 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 signed a collective bargaining agreement with UNITE HERE Local 11,” Balazs said in a statement. “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.”
The long nonunion Chateau Marmont, which sits 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 and Lindsay Lohan, and is also famously the hotel where John Belushi died of an overdose.
The ratification of the union contract comes after years of turmoil at the hotel.
A former Chateau Marmont employee alleges that management passed her over for promotions, awarding jobs instead to white people with less experience.
The hotel was accused of racial discrimination in a 2021 lawsuit by a former employee who said management primarily promoted white people to the most coveted positions while workers of color were stuck in lower-paid, behind-the-scenes jobs.
A company spokesperson said that the litigation was “resolved” in August.
Last December, civil rights leaders held a vigil at the hotel, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference echoed workers’ calls for celebrities to boycott the Chateau Marmont.
Ultimately, the SCLC helped mediate the dispute, according to representatives of the union and the hotel.
“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,” Balazs said in a statement.
When workers return to Chateau Marmont after more than two years off the job, union protections will probably make for a fundamentally changed workplace. A Hollywood Reporter article published in 2020 chronicled the complaints of more than 30 workers at the hotel, including allegations of sexual misconduct.
The new contract has “very strong protections around panic buttons and reporting of incidents of sexual harassment,” Petersen said. “Workers more than anything have a voice.”
Times staff writer Hugo Martin contributed to this report.