Biltmore employees protest silence from hotel, owner
Hundreds of employees from the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort gathered Thursday morning and marched around Montecito, eventually ending at the hotel they work at, demanding answers from their workplace and owner, Ty Warner.
“We are asking to just be heard and listened to and receive what we deserve as employees,” said Maria Svenson, who has worked for 21 years at the Biltmore.
“We work for the Four Seasons resorts and hotels, so we asked them, please, the corporate, please help us, and Mr. Warner, please help us take care of us.
“We’ve all worked really, really hard for so many years. We have a total of 6,000 years of service to Four Seasons just in this property and we have created the most amazing work environment. We are five stars now, five diamonds and this resort would not be that without the employees.”
The Biltmore closed its doors due to the pandemic in mid-March and has not opened since. As a result, hundreds of employees have been left with no word as to when they will work again.
Additionally, while workers were using their vacation time to get them through, that paid time off has since run out, resulting in the employees losing access to key essentials, such as healthcare benefits.
“With the situation with COVID, we understand that a lot of businesses were hurt, however, there was very minimal communication between Four Seasons and ownership. We were told at first we were going to open up on April 15, and then kept postponing and for the past couple months, we don’t need to know when the hotel is going to reopen,” said one worker, who asked to remain anonymous.
“So there are about 600 employees that are affected and we haven’t had insurance since the end of June, and for a lot of employees, including me, if we got laid off, we have no assurance that we will receive severance payment.”
Gabriel Peña, a worker at the Biltmore for 25 years as a bartender and banquet server, also shared his concerns due to the fact they have received no answer from their owner.
“It isn’t frustrating, we just want to know if we are going to get our job back,” Mr. Peña said.
Carlos Martin, a worker at the Biltmore for nearly 16 years, explained that the employees don’t want to find other jobs, they just want answers and support from management.
“I think a lot of people like the Four Seasons. We recently, before the closure, got the five-star hotel (award), which is hard for (any) hotel to get. I think we fought really hard to get that award,” Mr. Martin said.
“I am still proud of what I do. I am proud of pushing this cart when I am here and I miss it and making the best experience for our guests.”
The anxiety and worry a lot of these employees felt helped them decide to go through with the protest, starting at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge on Los Patos Way and walking more than two miles, eventually settling down in front of the hotel at 1260 Channel Drive.
Chants of “Shame on Ty, Shame on Biltmore,” could be heard as well as “We want work, we want answers.”
The Biltmore did not immediately respond to the News-Press’ request for comment regarding the protest.
Throughout their protest, the employees, many of whom were joined by their families, were greeted with honking horns of support from cars and even a few cheers from local community members who were either eating or stepping outside their home.
“It’s so nice. It just warms your heart,” Ms. Svenson told the News-Press.
She added that while a few people led the charge at first, it truly became a team effort by Thursday morning to get everyone out there.
“There was definitely… a desire to do something and it was a few people that got together to do it. It’s a combination and then once people heard about it, everybody was just so eager to help. So I would say it became very much a group effort,” Ms. Svenson said.
While happy with the turnout, Ms. Svenson said she was not shocked by how everyone was able to come together for the common goal.
“This is how this team is and the thought of not working together again is a devastating thought to many of us. This is why you see what you see here, because of how we feel about each other and the resort,” Ms. Svenson said.
Safety was also at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
During the protest, each participant wore a mask and someone even brought rope to help people try to maintain 6 feet of social distance while walking.
“That was like the first thing we talked about, so one of our team members, he created these to do the distance and a lot of these people are either family or they are living together, but that really was our top priority,” Ms. Svenson said.
During the walk to the Biltmore, the employees walked by Mr. Warner’s house, which Ms. Svenson said was “bittersweet.”
“It’s bittersweet because you hope there wouldn’t be a need for it to begin with, but there was, and I think we all felt that way and hopefully we are listened to,” she said.
Mr. Warner could be seen just outside the window, and would have had a hard time not hearing the employees’ chants.
“He was by the window (and saw) us. Shame on him, you know. He didn’t have the guts to come and say you know I’m sorry, apologize and say we’ll take care of you. We have been taking care of this hotel for the last 87 years,” one employee said.
At the end of the day, the employees just want answers.
“Answers. Answers, that’s it,” Ms. Svenson said.
‘I mean everybody’s dreaming about being able to just go back to work, but obviously with a pandemic there will be limitations, modifications, and we understand that.
“We don’t want to in any way be insensitive to what’s going on in the world, but despite that we still need answers so we can move on with our lives one way or another.”