Phase 2 of Massachusetts' reopening has begun, allowing lodging facilities to reopen, but one of Boston's most luxurious hotels has let about half its staff go.
Ricardo Mathelus is one of the nearly 200 staffers out of jobs at the Four Seasons Hotel on Boylston Street.
"It was a dream job because I was able to interact with the best of the best in the world," said Mathelus.
He was there more than two decades, working at the posh Bristol Lounge as a server. It wasn't easy, as expectations were demanding with the sophisticated clientele.
"I loved the people that came into the building and knew who we were," said Mathelus. "We knew who they were."
More than 40 of the terminated employees are now refusing to sign the hotel's severance deal.
Four Seasons is not unionized, but Unite Here Local 26, which represents thousands of other hotel workers in the Boston area, is lending the workers a hand. The union fired off a letter to hotel management calling the severance offer "insulting."
"They were given severance packages that were much less than what they had been promised in their employee handbook," said Carolos Aramayo, president of the union.
In a statement, hotel management says the workers were offered up to 12 weeks salary, and no separation pay was even obligated because of a pandemic clause in hotel policy:
The impact of COVID-19 on the travel and hospitality industry has been devastating and Four Seasons Hotel Boston is not immune. Like hotels all around the world, Four Seasons Hotel Boston has experienced a severe reduction in business with financial impacts well beyond those experienced during the financial crises of 2001 and 2008.
The extreme loss of revenues has forced us to make some difficult decisions to reduce costs while managing the short and long-term business realities. This includes permanent layoffs, which due to the circumstances of COVID-19, the Hotel’s temporary closure and local stay-at-home recommendations, happened via phone, versus in-person.
Each decision was painstakingly and carefully reviewed, and we are extremely grateful to all impacted employees for their service and contribution.
With respect to the Four Seasons Hotel Boston employee handbook, the schedule outlined in the policy contains a clause that nullifies separation pay in the light of the COVID pandemic; therefore, by policy and law, no separation pay was obligated. However, ownership of the hotel paid above and beyond these requirements to recognize the service of the employees and to attempt, despite the extreme business hardships facing the Hotel, to provide some level of support to the team.
In addition to funding full medical benefits for all furloughed employees in March, April and May while the hotel was closed, the property owners offered a severance payment of up to 12 weeks salary. During profitable times over the years, the property owners of Four Seasons Hotel Boston have made every effort to ensure employees were rewarded, including at times receiving highly competitive remuneration, 401K contributions, the freezing of medical benefit contributions, and other benefits. All employees’ hourly rates are consistent and top of market regardless of tenure.
All employees are eligible for re-hire in their former roles at their previous salaries and we hope to welcome them back at Four Seasons Hotel Boston in the future.
-Michael Pedder, general manager
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"Our concern is that this is the tip of the iceberg," said Aramayo. "We are very worried that the hospitality industry is going to use the pandemic as an excuse to significantly, permanently cut the workforce."
Mathelus, who'd been with the Four Seasons since he was 19, never imagined it would end like this.
"They're treating us like we did something wrong," he said. "That we are not deserving of respect for the amount of hard work we put in."
The hotel plans to reopen later this month with trimmed-down staffing levels.