The Medieval Times Company in Buena Park, California, Voted to Unionize after Three Months of Back-and-Forth with the Company
From queens and knights to horsemen and squires, the performers of Medieval Times dinner theatre castle in Buena Park, California, voted to unionize Thursday after months of back and forth with the company.
Low wages, dangerous working conditions, and a lack of respect from company management incited performers to fight for more job security and join the American Guild of Variety Artists, which represents some performers at Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, said Erin Zapcic, a union organizer.
Medieval Times puts on two-hour performances inspired by 11th century Spain of jousting, sword fighting, and hand-to-hand combat as guests eat a four-course meal. The show cast, which has speaking roles, includes the knights, squires, stablehands, and trumpeters.
There was considerable attrition because the company used the time to sow the seeds of discontent, create a divide within the bargaining unit and so on.
Buena Park performers petitioned for a union election on July 22 following the vote at the New Jersey location in July, she said. The Medieval Times has 10 locations across North America, including Atlanta, Ga, Chicago, Il, and Toronto, Ontario.
Medieval Times delayed the union election date by contesting that only Knights and Squires should be allowed in the union, excluding the show cast and stables department, according to Medieval Times Performers United California on Aug. 18. Medieval Times said that shows cast and stable hands do not share a “community of interest” with knights and squires.
“Medieval Times tried to separate and divide its California workers after it agreed to a single bargaining unit in New Jersey and then lost the election by a lopsided margin,” Spivak Lipton LLP attorney Nicholas Johnson said in a statement. The Regional Director saw through the employer’s arguments and found that a single bargaining unit was appropriate.
The votes at the New Jersey castles created a domino effect throughout the company and more castles are interested in unionizing.
New Jersey Stunts: Putting a Stable Hand to the Test in the Workforce: The Case of Stings and Barefoots
The stunts Knights perform include fighting real titanium weapons and throwing themselves off horses at 25 mph.
These dangerous duties have led to ankle, knee, and head injuries, according to performers in New Jersey, and knights do them all for about $19 to $29 an hour.
“The job will always be dangerous for the guys, but they should be compensated accordingly,” she said. “There should be a correlation between how dangerous their job is and how they’re compensated.”
Those who want to become knights and aspire to become a stunt performer usually begin as squires, who make minimum wage. A knight who worked as a squire at the New Jersey castle made $12 an hour.
Stablehands earning $16 an hour are particularly vulnerable to workplace injury because the show rely on horses and falcons.
“They love to tell us that we’re not Broadway and it’s absolutely correct,” Zapcic said. There are eight shows a week on Broadway. We do anywhere from 16 to 21.”
The Times, the NewsGuild and the Union Times: Standing with the Times on the Digital Picket Line as if There Was a Strike
Zapcic said, “There was a dismissiveness and feeling that the company views us as replaceable and having a union really sets us apart and shows that… we take our jobs seriously and we want to be treated with the same respect.”
The Times is planning to make sure they meet their obligation to report the news as if there was a strike, stated the email that she sent to the company.
“It’s disappointing that they’re taking such drastic action, given the clear commitment we’ve shown to negotiate our way to a contract that provides Times journalists with substantial pay increases, market-leading benefits, and flexible working conditions,” Meredith Kopit Levien, president and chief executive of The Times, said in an email to the company Wednesday night.
An act of protest by employees at the newspaper of record will leave a lot of major desks empty while creating a challenge for the news organization that millions of readers rely on.
An executive at The Times, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, acknowledged to CNN on Wednesday that the work stoppage would certainly create difficulties. The newspaper’s international staff which is not part of the union could be used to fill the vacancies if management decided to do so.
“We’re asking readers to not engage in any [New York Times] platforms tomorrow and stand with us on the digital picket line!,” Amanda Hess, a critic-at-large for the newspaper, wrote on Twitter. “Read local news. You can listen to public radio. Make something from a cookbook. Break your Wordle streak.”
In recent weeks, CNN laid off hundreds of staffers, newspaper chain Gannett cut 200 employees, NPR said it will need to find $10 million in savings, and other news organizations have explored the need to trim budgets and freeze hiring.
The Union Times, a newsletter published by the NewsGuild, described The Times’ wage concessions on Wednesday as “paltry” and said management has “barely budged” on the issue.
“They refuse to meet in person,” the executive told CNN. “It’s a really important point. I can’t emphasize it enough. There are negotiations on Zoom. There are eight or so people from management, as many as 18 people on the bargaining committee from the NewsGuild, and as many as 200 union members watching as ‘observers.’”
The executive said that the negotiations were essentially public. “And that changes the whole dynamic of negotiations. It becomes very theatrical and performative. It is difficult to get things done. It is like a show. There needs to be productive negotiations to reach a deal.
Susan DeCarava, president of the NewsGuild of New York, said in response, “Union democracy is crucial to union power. We don’t do closed door negotiations because management continues to demand.
“All members who will be affected by the decision made at the bargaining table should be privy to those discussions,” the representative added. “When Times management comes to the bargaining table with their insulting and disrespectful offers, they have to explain it to a room full of their own employees—and they hate it. The result of management’s public actions is the powerful strike that is happening tomorrow.”
Medieval Times Performers United, a union leader in Los Angeles, has filed a strike against the company and the American Guild of Variety Artists
The workers of the Medieval Times walked off the job and went on strike before the second performance of the day.
About 25 of the 50 workers in their bargaining unit walked out at the Buena Park location, said Erin Zapcic, lead organizer of Medieval Times Performers United.
“We’ll be out picketing basically every day for the foreseeable future until we can make some kind of meaningful progress with the company,” Zapcic said, who plays the Queen in the California shows.
Zapcic said that people work at Medieval Times because they love their job. But since reopening after COVID, staffing levels were so short, workers were performing six days a week.
The strike is affecting performances at the location. Zapcic said the company is pulling performers from non-unionized locations. The closest location to California is in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The union has filed numerous unfair labor practice charges against the company, including one that banned a TikTok account.
The Medieval Times Performers United and the American Guild of Variety Artists said in a statement in October that it was a grotesque attempt to retaliate against workers for forming a union.
Comment on “Companion of Trademark Violation in a Large Social Lobby” by Montaner and the European Union’s Trade Commission
The company reported that the account had been banned for violating the intellectual property policy. A screenshot shared with CNN showed CEO Perico Montaner reported the union’s Facebook account for trademark infringement.