AFM Venue Le Méridien Delfina Sees Biggest Hospitality Protest Yet As Indie Movie Execs Express Frustration Over New Market Home

The SAG-AFTRA strike isn’t the only industrial action in town this fall.

Striking hotel workers this morning staged another noisy protest — replete with drums and vuvuzelas — outside the AFM’s Méridien Delfina HQ today as part of long-running industrial action. It’s the biggest and loudest event so far with hundreds expected for a rally and march that will see protesters walk from the Delfina to the Viceroy, another struck hotel, and then to Santa Monica City Hall.

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Hundreds of workers from Santa Monica hotels have been striking for months in a bid for more equitable contracts and conditions.

The AFM, which wraps tomorrow, has become caught in the crosshairs having moved this year to the Delfina from longtime home the Loews. The Delfina was recently the subject of an LA Times exposé which claimed it was using staffing agencies to hire homeless migrants as replacement workers for strikers. Late last month, State Senator Maria Elena Durazo addressed the issue at a press conference held outside the venue.

The WGA sent an open letter to Prewitt last week calling for IFTA/AFM to honor the hotel strike and not to “patronize, eat, gather, or sleep at these hotels until they have new contracts with living wages”.

IFTA / AFM’s President & CEO Jean Prewitt told us about the Times’ allegations: “We are not party to union negotiations with the Los Angeles hotels or their hiring practices.”

The California Hotel & Lodging Association’s spokesperson Pete Hillan commented: “Our hotels hire employees directly and through third-party contractors. In all cases we follow California employment laws that require employees to provide us with social security numbers and mailing addresses.”

The AFM’s second day on Wednesday kicked off to the sound of the noisy protests organized by hospitality workers union Unite Here Local 11 and the same union is behind today’s march.

The protests (and accompanying ethical questions raised by the Times‘ story) are just part of the headache the new location seems to be giving some U.S. and international industry attending the event.

Industry sessions this week have been well-attended and despite the packaging challenges posed by the SAG-AFTRA strike, a fair number of pre-sale projects were announced. The visible footfall has been steady and industry prefer to meet face-to-face rather than over zoom. That said, we’ve spoken to a number of sellers and buyers working at the hotel who expressed concerns over the structure, location and aesthetics of the hotel as a confab venue.

“The combination of hotel staff strikes, slow elevators and maze-like corridor structure made for a challenging navigation for buyers who preferred the beach front,” one European seller told us.

“It was a bit of a mess,” said one leading buyer bluntly, while another key seller based at the venue added: “It has been pretty bad. I would push for an office elsewhere next time.”

Strikers outside the Méridien Delfina hotel (copyright: Deadline).

Most industry we spoke to this week expressed a familiar desire for reinvention from the event, which had already shortened its running time this edition. The AFM is entering the “endangered species zone” claimed one market regular who noted that costs remain high to exhibit at the Delfina. There have been calls for a new home and configuration of the AFM for years. Many of the larger companies now take their meetings off-site. Miami is this year’s touted alternative from some disgruntled execs. Last year there were rumors of a Middle East alternative. Some like the idea of merging the TIFF and AFM markets either in Canada or an alternative location in LA. These may well be pipe dreams, for the near future at least.

IFTA told us today that it has a multi-year contract with the Méridien Delfina to host the AFM. Multiple industry we’ve spoken to were under the impression IFTA had a get-out clause from that contract in the next 30 days, but IFTA has told us that is not true.

Prewitt acknowledged “teething pains” in this first edition at the new home: “After every market, we gather comments from all participants. This is going to be especially important this year. There is no question there were teething pains this year as exhibitors and organizers alike found their way around the hotel and worked out the best logistic plans to take advantage of the new venue. The overriding comments we’ve heard are that business proceeded effectively for the companies here and that would continue in future years.”

She continued in reference to the hospitality strike action: “IFTA’s mission is to support the well-being of the independent industry. The industry relies on the business done at AFM for their livelihood. Cancellation or relocation was not an option, as it would do serious financial harm to our thousands of global constituents.”

Despite the challenging SAG strike context and global economic pains, IFTA claims that exhibitor numbers remain healthy this year. Deals will be done and the event’s LA location remains one of its biggest calling cards as it affords industry the opportunity to get around town and visit the agencies, studios and other companies.

The indie sector needs healthy markets around which it can do business. The new-look AFM remains a work in progress.

State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (right) after a news conference in October to address the allegation that hotels are using staffing agencies to hire homeless migrants as replacement workers for strikers. (Getty)
State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (right) after a news conference in October to address the allegation that hotels are using staffing agencies to hire homeless migrants as replacement workers for strikers. (Getty)

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