Protesting five months of furlough and counting, coupled with radio silence from local owner Ty Warner and the Four Seasons corporate office in Toronto, some 250 Biltmore employees took to the streets of Montecito on Thursday.
A number carried big black-and-white banners that read “SHAME ON TY WARNER” and “SHAME ON FOUR SEASONS” while others held smaller signs that reflected their devotion to the resort but frustration over their recent treatment. “29 YEARS OF SERVICE,” one said. “NO SEVERANCE. AGAINST OUR CONTRACT.”
At issue is the employment limbo the Biltmore’s workers find themselves in after the hotel shut down in March amid the coronavirus. While other luxury hotels in the region have reopened their doors, the Biltmore has not, though corporate managers keep promising staff that operations will resume in just “two weeks.” Those assurances, however, have been made over and over since April with no end in sight.
Maria Svensson, the Biltmore’s sales and events manager, said it’s understandable if Warner wants to use the down time to renovate, which recent construction suggests he’s doing. That’s just good business, she said. But if that’s the case, staff needs some kind of communication and timeline.
“You want to renovate? Great!” she said. “We just ask that you let us know what’s happening, and how long it might take, so we can make decisions for ourselves and our families. Or,” she went on, “lay us off and pay our severance. You can’t keep us on furlough indefinitely.” What the employees really want, Svensson said, is just to get back to work.
The Four Seasons has not responded to requests for comment. Ty Warner issued a statement two days before the protest denying rumors of a possible sale. “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.”
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