Furloughed staff of the luxury Four Seasons Biltmore Resort in Montecito, frustrated with a lack of communication from both the company’s corporate office and local owner Ty Warner as the hotel’s five-month COVID closure drags on, are planning a protest this Thursday that will begin at the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge, file past the hotel, and circle around Warner’s nearby estate.
Unlike other hotels in the region that have reopened various levels of service since the start of the pandemic ― including the San Ysidro Ranch, which Warner also owns ― the Biltmore has remained completely dark. Rumors are swirling of a possible sale or top-to-bottom renovation, and the 450 staff, who cashed out their vacation time long ago and were kicked off the company’s health insurance in June, continue to wonder and agonize when the closure will end and if they’ll still have jobs when it does.
“We are at a standstill,” said one of four employees interviewed by the Independent, who asked that their identities be kept private for fear of professional retaliation. “We just want to know what’s going on so we can make decisions. Are we being laid off? Do we need to start looking for other jobs? We can’t be kept on furlough forever.” If layoffs are coming, staff also worry that their severance packages may be withheld, which is what happened at the Four Seasons in Boston until the city council there got involved.
The Biltmore’s local managers have said that Warner is communicating directly with Four Seasons bosses, but not with them, so they don’t have any answers for their staff, who’ve been assured since April 15 by corporate that a reopening is only two weeks away. In recent days, even those false promises have stopped altogether. The employees stress that they appreciate the difficulties of doing business in the COVID era and the important safety considerations involved. But why, then, did Warner choose to reopen his other Montecito resort? And why have other Four Seasons across the country resumed operations? “At this point, blaming [the Biltmore closure] on the coronavirus is a bullshit excuse,” said one staff member.
“The Four Seasons mission statement is the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated,” said another. “It is apparent that the Four Seasons has looked past the many years of hard work by its loyal employees and is ignoring the Golden Rule attributed to its successes. We have worked weekends, holidays, overtime, and been driven hard to achieve a Forbes 5-Star rating at this iconic luxury hotel. We feel we deserve clear communication and the entitled severance package as per our employee contract if the business is to remain closed.”
In a statement to the Independent, Warner insisted he doesn’t plan to sell the property. “It is an unfounded rumor,” he said. “I have no intention of selling any of my Santa Barbara properties, not now or ever. And I will continue to improve them for the benefit and enjoyment of their customers. Though the properties may be historic and iconic you will always be able to find something new and improved woven seamlessly into their historic fabric.”
Four Seasons did not offer a statement by press time. The story will be updated when one is provided.