Unite Here Co-Prez Insults Deaf Academy Award Winner

Will Smith’s “slap heard ’round the world” set a new low for award season behavior–but Unite Here Local 11 Co-president Kurt Petersen came in a close second. In an interview yesterday on a widely-followed entertainment podcast, he said celebrities like Troy Kotsur — the deaf actor who won an Academy Award for his performance in the film Coda — were “shameful” and “[not] willing to stand with workers.”

In recent months, Petersen and his team of paid organizers have targeted the famed Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. The hotel, known for its glamorous guests, attracted Local 11’s ire for committing the same “sin” as the union’s other targets — failing to submit to its demands for workforce unionization, no secret ballot required.

The union has levied its typical charges, such as alleged misuse of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding — despite the fact that the union has its own potential PPP scandal to deal with. But the union’s real pressure point has been celebrities, who — wary about appearing anti-worker — have ceded to its demands to avoid the hotel.

Enter hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, who decided to host an Oscars afterparty at the Chateau. Local 11 got word of the afterparty and set in motion its plan to re-route the rapper’s Oscar rendezvous. The union announced a picket line, as supportive statements poured in from its friends in advocacy groups across the labor left. The union’s friends in the press piled on.

In the past, these pressure tactics have sometimes worked. But Jay-Z took a different approach: He ignored the fake outrage ginned up by the union, and kept his plans in place. His bet paid off: “Plenty” of celebrities arrived at the mogul’s after-party, according to a podcast on the festivities — with little apparent notice paid to the union or its shenanigans.

Asked to quantify the impact of his protest, union President Petersen could only lamely offer this: “…some people pulled off and didn’t go in… I don’t know who they were exactly…”

But Petersen couldn’t resist swiping at the celebrities who did attend, such as Mr. Kotsur — fresh off of his historic Academy Award win and moving acceptance speech on behalf of the deaf community. Petersen said Kotsur and others were part of “shameful ongoings” at the Chateau, that “they weren’t willing to stand with workers,” and suggested they believed “being surrounded by celebrities was more important than standing with workers.”

Not very classy on Petersen’s part. But then again, his union has a reputation for taking the low road.