Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag
From queens and knights to cavaliers and squires, performers at the Medieval Times castle theater in Buena Park, Calif., voted to unionize on Thursday after months of back and forth with the company.
Low pay, dangerous working conditions and lack of respect from company management have prompted artists to fight for more job security and join the American Guild of Variety Artists, which represents certain artists at Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, said Erin Zapcic, a labor organizer. .
Medieval Times features two-hour performances inspired by 11e century in Spain of jousting, sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat while the guests eat a four-course meal. The cast includes knights, squires, squires who handle horses, show actors with speaking roles, and trumpeters.
How the vote turned out
The vote, 27-18, was decisive to the surprise of some artists, including Zapcic, who plays a queen in Buena Park.
The vote marks the end of a nearly four-month journey for Buena Park performers to unionize due to delays caused by company management, she said.
“The company really used the time to sow the seeds of discord, to create division within the bargaining unit, and so depending on how things were going and who we were talking to, even while we started with a super majority of unity bargaining, there was considerable attrition or so it seemed throughout the process,” Zapcic said.
Buena Park artists filed a petition for a July 22 union election following the vote at the New Jersey site 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 date for union elections by contesting that only knights and squires should be allowed in the union, excluding the performers and stables department, according to Medieval Times Performers United California on Aug. 18. Medieval Times argued that the knights and squires did share a “community of interest” with the show’s cast and squires.
Medieval Times did not respond to a request for comment.
Ringo HW Chiu/AP
“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 press release. “The Regional Director saw through the employer’s baseless arguments and correctly concluded that a single bargaining unit was appropriate.”
Medieval Times did not contest the requested bargaining unit in New Jersey, according to Medieval Times Performers United.
The votes in Buena Park and the New Jersey castles created a company-wide domino effect as more castles expressed interest in unionizing, Zapcic said.
A call for higher wages to reflect the dangerousness of the work
The knights perform dangerous stunts that require them to fight with real titanium weapons and throw horses at 25 mph for the performance, Zapcic said.
These dangerous tasks have resulted in ankle, knee and head injuries, according to artists in New Jersey, and Knights do them all for around $19 to $29 an hour.
“The work will always be dangerous for the guys, but they should be compensated accordingly,” she said. “There should be a correlation between how dangerous their work is and how they are paid.”
Those who want to become knights and aspire to do athletics or become stuntmen usually start out as squires, who earn “essentially minimum wage,” Zapcic told the LA Times. A knight who previously worked as a squire at the New Jersey castle earned $12 an hour.
The horses and falcon on which the show is based also add an element of uncertainty for worker safety, especially for squires who can earn $16 an hour.
Zapcic compared Medieval Times shows to Broadway shows, seating roughly the same number of people and putting on more shows per week. They put on as many as 10-16 shows in a normal week compared to the eight shows at most Broadway shows, but the number can go up to 21 between Christmas and New Years. Many knights and squires will be expected to perform in nearly every show in this busy season.
Upon hearing Zapcic’s comparison to Broadway shows, she said Medieval Times management responded, “You’re not Broadway. It’s a dinner theater.”
Zapcic said: “There was a contempt and a sense that the company sees us as replaceable and having a union really sets us apart and shows that… we take our jobs seriously and want to be treated with the same respect.”
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