Laid off Chateau Marmont workers call for extended health coverage – Daily News

on Jun18
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When Walter Almendarez was laid off from his job as a bellhop at Hollywood’s famed Chateau Marmont hotel in late March, his immediate worry was loss of income.

It got worse when his healthcare coverage ended 10 days later.

“I worked there for 23 years,” the 44-year-old Palmdale resident said. “We got nothing. We were thrown on the street like insects. I’ve been applying for other jobs, but with my experience in hospitality there aren’t any openings.”

Almendarez is receiving $1,000 a month in unemployment benefits plus another $600 a month through a government stimulus program. But with a wife, a 9-year-old daughter and parents who all depend on his income, it’s not enough.

“I’m going to food banks and trying not to spend money … because there is no money,” he said.

Almendarez was among an estimated 200 non-union Chateau employees who were abruptly laid off in March with no extended healthcare as hotel business plummeted nationwide amid the COVID-19 health crisis. Many were living paycheck to paycheck before the layoffs occurred.

A car caravan protest

An estimated 200 non-union Chateau Marmont employees were laid off in March with no severance and no extended healthcare. (Photo courtesy of Unite Here, Local 11)

Almendarez and displaced workers from other Southern California hotels held a car caravan at Chateau Marmont on Wednesday to call attention to their need for ongoing, affordable healthcare.

Officials with United Here, Local 11, which represents more than 30,000 workers in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention centers throughout Southern California and Arizona, were on hand to offer support.

David Ryu’s concern

L.A. City Councilman David Ryu expressed concern over the workers’ plight in a letter sent last week to Andre Balazs, Chateau Marmont’s president and CEO.

“I have heard from Chateau workers who, despite the fact that we are experiencing the worst public health crisis in a century, have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance,” he said. “This means that these workers need to pay over $400 per month for health insurance while laid off.”

Ryu notes that laid-off employees represented by Unite Here at the nearby Andaz West Hollywood and 1 Hotel West Hollywood hotels have kept their affordable health insurance for themselves and their families.

“I ask that you emulate your industry peers by guaranteeing employer-sponsored health insurance for your laid off workers,” he said.

A response from Balazs

Balazs responded by noting that on May 4 the hotel distributed more than $250,000 to employees affected by the health crisis. The distribution, based on seniority, ranged from a minimum of $350 for those who had worked there for just a few months, to well over $5,000 for “long-tenured” employees.

Workers who weren’t laid off have retained their healthcare benefits, Balazs said.

“As the business hopefully — but most certainly, fitfully — returns to normal,  we are especially grateful to those who may choose to return to work with us as business makes it possible,” he said.

Right-of-recall/worker-retention policy

Chateau’s laid-off workers recently helped pass a right-of-recall and worker-retention policy in the city of Los Angeles that guarantees the right to return to work once the crisis subsides. Parallel policies were passed in Los Angeles County and Long Beach with a similar measure proposed for the state.

Employees from the Chateau Marmont and other hotels throughout Southern California held a car caravan at Chateau Marmont on Wednesday to call attention to their need for ongoing, affordable healthcare. (Photo courtesy of Unite Here, Local 11)

That guarantee can’t come soon enough for Martha Mora, who worked 33 years at Chateau Marmont as a housekeeper before being laid off in March. A single mother who has three grown children living with her, Mora is diabetic and requires periodic medical tests as well as diabetes medication.

Two of her children are working, but money is still tight.

“I don’t know what I’d do if someone else in the family got sick,” she said. “I was earning $18 an hour after 33 years.”

Ryu offered to lend assistance to Chateau Marmont by directing management to available low-interest business loans or connecting the hotel with proper authority and guidance from L.A. County Public Health.

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