Medieval Times Charged With Illegal Union-Busting At California Castle

A complaint filed Tuesday alleges the dinner-theater chain’s management tried to get workers to withdraw support for their union.

A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint Tuesday accusing Medieval Times management of an illegal scheme to undermine union support at its castle in Buena Park, California.

Last year, workers at the castle launched a union campaign to improve pay and working conditions, gathering signed union cards from members of the show cast, horseback-riding knights and stablehands. Later a petition was circulated in which some workers who had signed union cards asked to retract them.

The complaint alleges that the dinner-theater chain’s director of training and development played a direct role in that effort to torpedo the union by offering guidance on the petition and encouraging workers to pull their support.

Workers can ask to revoke their union authorization cards if they have a change of heart, but it’s illegal for management to take part in any such effort because it could be coercive.

“We had to deal with months of near-constant union busting from Medieval Times.”

- Erin Zapcic, queen at the Buena Park castle

The union, the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), had filed a charge with the NLRB accusing Medieval Times of breaking the law through the petition. The complaint issued Tuesday means NLRB officials investigated the union’s claims and found merit in them. If Medieval Times declines to reach a settlement on the case, it would go to a trial.

The AGVA ended up winning the election anyway, by a tally of 27 to 18, making the allegedly illegal petition campaign moot. But the regional director, Nathan M. Seidman, said Medieval Times should have to acknowledge it broke the law and post a notice about workers’ rights in the Buena Park castle and also read it aloud to workers.

Erin Zapcic, a queen in the cast and a union steward, said in a statement that workers were “thrilled” the board had issued a complaint against the company.

“Throughout our organizing campaign, we had to deal with months of near-constant union busting from Medieval Times,” Zapcic said. “Most egregiously, the company orchestrated an attempt to cancel our election entirely through deception, manipulation, and illegal means.”

Medieval Times knight Brandon Sanchez on the picket line in Buena Park, California.
Medieval Times knight Brandon Sanchez on the picket line in Buena Park, California.
Orange County Register via Getty Images

Zapcic called Tuesday’s filing “the first of what will surely be many complaints against this company,” noting the union has accused Medieval Times of other unfair labor practices that are being investigated.

Medieval Times didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The California castle was the company’s second to form a union, following an earlier campaign at the castle in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Workers at both locations are now trying to negotiate a first contract. The unions include the castles’ performers and stablehands but not food and retail employees.

The Buena Park show cast and the knights have been on an unfair labor practice strike since February, accusing Medieval Times of trying to silence them on social media. The company has brought in replacement workers ― scabs, in union parlance ― from other castles. According to the union, some replacement knights from the company’s Toronto castle were turned away by U.S. immigration officials due to their lack of work visas.

Last year, the company filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the AGVA over the name the workers chose for their union, Medieval Times Performers United, and the Middle Ages-themed imagery of their logo. The company claimed the union’s name and imagery were creating confusion among customers and endangering its brand.

The company later filed intellectual property complaints with Facebook and TikTok and succeeded in getting the TikTok account for the California castle’s union shut down. The union has responded by filing more unfair labor practice charges against the company, saying the trademark lawsuit and social media complaints are illegal efforts to gag them.

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