If you’re planning on going to the Voice Arts Awards (VAA) Gala at the Beverly Hilton on December 10th, chances are that you will have to cross a picket line to get inside. Why? Because you’ll be entering a boycotted hotel.
United Here Local 11 contacted VAA nominees and told them that the workers at the Beverly Hilton are “strike ready.” The union writes:
“Since July 1st, 2023, hotel workers throughout the Los Angeles area, including The Beverly Hilton, have been walking off the job as part of the largest hotel worker strike in U.S. history. They are fighting for a wage that will enable them to live in the communities where they work.”
Robby Robinson, a cook who has worked at The Beverly Hilton for 16 years, told his union:
“I am ready to go on strike because the increase in the cost of living in Los Angeles has become unmanageable. I need to work multiple jobs, working on average 10 to 12 hours a day to be able to provide for my family. I am 69 years old, and this is unsustainable and morally wrong. My co-workers and I aren’t afraid of hard work, but we should be compensated fairly for it.”
Local 11 represents 32,000 employees in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention centers in Southern California and Arizona. The union told VAA nominees:
“Unfortunately, many in the hotel industry, including The Beverly Hilton, have refused to pay Robinson and his co-workers a living wage. As a result, hotel workers across the County of Los Angeles have called for a boycott of their places of employment. Please stand with them. We are respectfully asking that the SOVAS stand with these hotel workers by relocating, postponing or canceling this upcoming event at The Beverly Hilton.”
And how did SOVAS respond? Chairman and CEO Rudy Gaskins in a letter to members:
“SOVAS remains committed to moving forward with the Voice Arts Awards Gala, acknowledging and respecting the rights of unions to strike and express their grievances as permitted by law in our free country. Canceling the event outright would severely negatively impact SOVAS and disappoint attendees traveling from around the world.”
In his letter to VAA members Gaskins doesn’t seem to be overly concerned. He writes:
“SOVAS is working with Beverly Hilton management to ensure a seamless and successful event. During my personal visits to the hotel, there was no visible strike activity, and management assured that demonstrations are confined to limited areas outside the hotel with strict security protocols to minimize disruption.”
“While there is optimism that the strike may conclude before the Voice Arts Awards, uncertainties remain.”
Unlike Gaskins, I decided to reach out to Local 11, and get their perspective. I spoke to Sam Forman. Sam leads a team of “customer organizers” at Local 11 that reach out to people who are planning on visiting the boycotted hotels.
You may wonder how the union got the contact information of all the SOVAS nominees so it could send them a letter. It’s simple. The list of nominees is public, and every voice actor on that list has a website with an email address or contact form.
Of course the union reached out to Rudy Gaskins but never got him on the line. “We only spoke to an assistant” Forman says.
I told him the SOVAS CEO had been in touch with hotel management, and that during his visits he never saw any strike activity. Forman reacted:
“Just because Mr. Gaskins didn’t see any activity doesn’t mean nothing’s going on. He spoke with management. Did he speak with any hotel workers? Had he done so, he would have heard a different story.
The workers at hotels like the Beverly Hilton are dealing with the increased cost of living, inflation, increased health care and retirement costs. Most of them live on low wages, many of them are immigrants, women, and belong to minorities. They often have second jobs and sleep in their cars in between shifts. In some cases workers have been disciplined or fired for taking part in industrial action.”
Does he share Rudy Gaskins’ optimism that the strike may be over before the Voice Arts Awards Gala on December 10th?
“Not at all. At this point it is extremely likely that there will be disruptions at the Awards Gala. Hospitality workers are very frustrated right now. They have been taking industrial action since the summer, and have only received insulting proposals from hotels that don’t come close to meeting their demands.
There are sixty hotels that are being targeted. The Beverly Hilton has banded together with forty other hotels and they are rejecting every proposal.”
“As long as customers like SOVAS don’t see a need to boycott the Beverly Hilton, hotel management thinks people don’t care and there’s no reason to meet the demands of the union. This is a slap in the face of the hotel workers.”
“Absolutely. At the end of last year my union reached a deal with the famous Chateau Marmont, four months after unionizing. 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.
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.”
If you have bought a ticket to the SOVAS Awards Gala, what are you to do?
Many voice actors have publicly supported the Writers and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Some even walked the picket lines. Be honest: is it inconsistent and unprincipled to care about your fellow-actors and not about the underpaid hotel workers who serve you drinks, cook your food, and make your bed?
The unfortunate thing for these workers is that they are not as famous and visible as A-list SAG-AFTRA actors. In fact, most of them are entirely unseen by management and clients alike, as Rudy Gaskins’ conduct confirmed.
If I had a ticket to the Voice Awards Gala and I knew what was going on, my sympathy would definitely be with the underdogs, the marginalized, the minorities, and the people who are struggling. If I were a member of SAG-AFTRA, this would not even be controversial. Union members stand with union members, right?!
I would feel very uncomfortable celebrating accomplishments in voice acting, while vulnerable hotel workers are trying to be heard.
Now, before my critics accuse me of hating Mr. Gaskins, the Voice Arts Awards, and being a racist, let me make one thing crystal clear. I would feel exactly the same if the One Voice Awards or NAVA would have their galas at the Beverly Hilton, but they don’t.
The Beverly Hilton has been blacklisted since July 1st, giving SOVAS time to pick another venue. SOVAS chose not to, and now they’re dealing with the consequences.
The way I see it, you can’t support the SAG-AFTRA strike (in part because the outcome may benefit you), and have no problem crossing the picket line at the Beverly Hilton. You may have more in common with hotel workers than you think.
Do you realize how many out of work actors end up temping in the hospitality industry? You may even find that the Hilton has hired some in-between-jobs actors to cater to your needs at the gala.
Alec Baldwin was once a busboy. Sandra Bullock worked as a hostess. Madonna was a cloakroom assistant. Bruce Willis made money tending bar. Tom Hanks started out as a bellhop, and Lady Gaga waited tables.
During the strike at Chateau Marmont, actress Rosario Dawson publicly vowed not to visit the hotel until employee disputes were resolved. Since the publication of this blog I have heard from one very prominent audiobook narrator that he won’t be attending the VAA’s gala, in support of Local 11.
Here’s my question:
What will you do at the Beverly Hilton? Whose side are you on?
One thing is clear.
Your decision will be a loud message to hotel management, to union members, and to SOVAS.
It has been brought to my attention that some readers feel that the picture of the three wise monkeys has racist overtones. These people did not contact me, but have spoken to others about it. When you research the origin and meaning of the three monkeys, you’ll find it represents a popular Buddhist maxim in 17th-Century Japan before spreading to the west. It stands for “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
In the East, the image is a reminder to follow a morally upright path by avoiding evil in every form. The three monkeys is a positive symbol that reminds one to be pure and virtuous by not engaging in negative and destructive behaviors.
In the West the proverb is sometimes used sarcastically to those who turn a blind eye to something morally or legally wrong. As if by pretending not to see the wrongdoing, they will not be held accountable for it.
I don’t see what racism has to do with the Voice Arts Awards or SOVAS. I obviously sympathize with the people who are on strike, and as I wrote: “many of them are immigrants, women, and belong to minorities.” I believe these people deserve to make a living wage plus benefits and job security.
Calling me a racist or accusing me of racism is based on projection, and is used as a deflection and distraction so as to avoid the real topic of this blog post.
My blog is being targeted by aggressive spam bots. That’s why I had to put an equally aggressive spam filter in place. This means that when you comment, you will receive a response that your comment has been flagged as spam. Don’t worry. All I need to do is approve your comment, and it will show up. Thanks for understanding!
And finally, here is my personal response to those who weren’t very thrilled when I published this article: