Workers at Medieval Times have formed the dinner-theater chain’s first labor union, bringing collective bargaining to a castle in northern New Jersey.
The knights, squires, show cast and stablehands at the Lyndhurst location voted 26 to 11 in favor of joining the American Guild of Variety Artists following a ballot count Friday night, according to the union. The National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the election, has not yet certified the results.
Workers said in a statement Friday that they were grateful for the “outpouring of support” they received from the public and the guidance they received from the union.
“We look forward to working with management to create a fairer, safer, and more enjoyable Medieval Times,” they said. “Together, we will build a workplace that allows us to thrive while doing the work we love.”
As HuffPost reported last month, Medieval Times workers in New Jersey have been organizing to improve their pay and working conditions, with a particular focus on safety. The Middle Ages-themed shows involve jousting on horseback and other dangerous stunts, all in front of an unpredictable and sometimes rowdy crowd.
Employees told HuffPost they deserve higher pay for the work they do ― stablehands and actors often start out around the state’s minimum wage of $13 per hour ― as well as more security to help control the audience. Some workers at the castle have been members of other labor unions in the entertainment industry and want to have a similar voice at Medieval Times.
“Our situation has become pretty dire at the castle,” one worker told HuffPost. “Something has to be done.”
Medieval Times, which did not respond to interview requests, opposed the organizing effort. The company hired a union-avoidance consultant who held meetings at the castle with employees at a cost of $3,200 per day, plus expenses.
The union in Lyndhurst would include about 40 workers, most of them performing in the show or working in the stables, where the castle keeps about two dozen horses. The American Guild of Variety Artists represents workers in other theaters and touring shows, including the Rockettes and performers at Disneyland.
“Our situation has become pretty dire at the castle.”
Medieval Times workers often put on two or three two-hour shows in a day and must regularly rehearse to stay safe. Knights mock-fight in heavy gear, smash lances as they ride and jump from horseback, while stablehands and squires handle horses that can get excited by the crowds. The queen and other actors run the show and often have to keep the crowd in check while staying in character.
A common complaint among workers is that the company acts as if this very atypical work is a normal 9-to-5 job.
“They treat a lot of the professionally trained actors like anybody can do this job,” Purnell Thompson, a stablehand and union supporter, previously told HuffPost. “They treat a lot of the stablehands like we’re fully replaceable and they consider it an entry-level job. I’ve worked entry-level animal care jobs. This is not that.”
The campaign at Medieval Times is part of a wave of union organizing this year at well-known companies, including Amazon, Starbucks, REI and Apple. Like Medieval Times, all four of those employers have seen workers unionize for the first time in recent months, fueled by a tight labor market and the frustrations of working through the coronavirus pandemic.
The Lyndhurst castle may not be the last to form a union within Medieval Times. The Texas-based chain has eight other locations in the U.S. and one in Canada.