Unionized workers at the Medieval Times castle in Buena Park, California launched a surprise strike against their employer this past Saturday afternoon, just before the second performance of the day. The dinner and theater chain managed to put on its show, but not without some serious trouble as workers made their way to the picket line.
According to four castle workers, Medieval Times substituted a horse trainer for the show. yellow knight before the performance. Typically, such a replacement would not be trained for the dangerous jousting and combat stunts that knights perform as they fight for the queen’s honor. So Medieval Times apparently went off script.
There is a standard moment on the Medieval Times show in which the chancellor invites the knights to leave if they feel the danger of combat is too great: “If any of you regret this request and its dangers, you are now free to retire with honor.” . It is a superficial overture that brave knights always reject. But in this case, HuffPost employees, the surrogate gentleman accepted the chancellor’s offer and fled the arena on his horse, never to return.
That left the revelers who had been assigned the yellow knight without a hero to cheer on.
“That part of the show is standard, but no one is supposed to leave,” said Erin Zapcic, a striking performer who was outside when the show took place.
Zapcic’s account was corroborated by another worker who was inside the castle at the time. This worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he does not have union protections, said the company also called in workers from other departments to work as “squires” at the show, helping the knights in the arena. The position requires working very closely with the horses. One of the substitute squires was running across the arena in his running shoes, they recalled.
“It was not a safe environment,” the worker said.
Medieval Times did not respond to requests for comment on the strike or questions about how it was handling staffing during the work stoppage.
The company soon brought in other trained knights and cast members from remote castles to replace them, derisively called “faces” in union jargon, to keep Buena Park’s schedule on track. The striking workers saw some of the replacements arrive with their luggage in tow. (Medieval Times has nine castles in the US and one in Canada.)
Julia McCurdie, another striking artist, said the company must have gone to great lengths to bring in replacements.
“Seeing them spend thousands and thousands of dollars getting people out of other castles, putting them up in hotels, paying them a per diem to cover our shifts… That money could have easily been spent paying us a living wage, which is what we’re asking for.” McCurdy said.
Workers at Medieval Times have been lobbying the company to pay more, with many saying they earn around $18 an hour, or even less, a sum they say is inconsistent with either their training or the high cost. of life in southern California. But union members say they went on strike over the company’s unfair labor practices, accusing management of failing to bargain in good faith and illegally trying to silence them.
Workers who strike over alleged unfair labor practices generally have more legal protections than workers who strike for economic reasons, and it is more difficult for an employer to replace them permanently. The Buena Park workers became the second group of Medieval Times workers to unionize last year, following a successful union drive at the company’s castle in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. (Medieval Times operates nine castles in the US in all.)
The union does not include the castle’s food and retail workers. Many workers in the castle’s stable department, which is part of the union, chose to continue working during the walkout, employees told HuffPost. But more than half of the negotiating unit has chosen to join the picket. Zapcic said that some of the workers from other departments have joined the picketers on their days off or also during breaks.
“More people left with us than I thought,” said Jake Bowman, a knight at the castle. “There was a lot of fear that we were on our own, but the community is coming together behind us, and that has given a lot of people the confidence to do this for as long as it takes.”
Bowman said the “final domino” that preceded the strike was the company’s decision to attack its social media accounts.
Last year, the Medieval Times sued the labor union, the American Guild of Variety Artists, for allegedly violating the company’s trademark with its campaign name, Medieval Times Performers United, and its medieval-themed logo. More recently, the company appears to have intensified its fight over the trademark by trying to silence the TikTok and Facebook accounts of Buena Park’s bargaining unit.
As HuffPost reported last month, the syndicate recently learned that its TikTok account had been banned following an intellectual property complaint. TikTok has not responded to HuffPost’s repeated requests for comment.
“There was a lot of fear that we were on our own, but the community is coming together behind us, and that has given a lot of people the confidence to do this for as long as it takes.”
– Jake Bowman, Buena Park Medieval Knight
Perico Montaner, the CEO of Medieval Times, also appears to have filed an intellectual property complaint with Facebook regarding the syndicate’s Buena Park account. Facebook’s parent company, Meta, told HuffPost that one of the union’s posts was mistakenly removed but later restored. The social media company declined to comment further, citing the Medieval Times litigation.
The American Guild of Variety Artists has filed unfair labor practice charges against Medieval Times for both the lawsuit and its apparent attempts to terminate social media accounts. Labor law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for gathering and what is known as “protected concerted exercise activity.”
Zapcic said Medieval Times also muzzled worker supporters by hiding comments on the company’s social media posts, where commenters called for the company to negotiate and raise wages.
“We knew for a while that we were going to have to escalate things, but once it got to the point where we and our supporters and fans were being actively silenced, we just said we had to improve this,” Zapcic said. “Time-wise, it’s a busy week. Valentine’s Day is a great income generator [for Medieval Times]. It seemed like if we were going to do it, we would have to do it now.”
Arguing with workers on social media can be a dangerous game for any employer. The AFL-CIO labor federation put together a TikTok about the Medieval Times trademark complaints, likely helping direct union supporters to the comments section of the company’s social media posts. At some point, the company appears to have stopped using its TikTok handle, @medievaltimestherealone, and migrated to a new one, @medieval.times.official.
After word got out about the TikTok ban, comedian Ben Palmer reached out to workers at Medieval Times to see if there was any way he could help. Palmer has 3.7 million followers on TikTok, where his handle is adapted to his schtick: @palmertrolls. Palmer noticed that Medieval Times’ old TikTok handle was available, so, he says, he i hooked itcalled it “Mid Evil Times” and tied it to the syndicate GoFundMe for strikersasking followers to “help us stand up to the overlords”.
Palmer put together a Tik Tok criticizing the management of Medieval Times which had over 660,000 views as of Friday afternoon. By contrast, a typical TikTok from the company itself gets a couple thousand looks.
When asked about his decision to get into the Medieval Times fray, Palmer told HuffPost in an email that he often trolls companies he believes are mistreating workers, and that he previously emailed Starbucks, Frito-Lay, Nabisco and others when their employees went on strike.
“I support employees to have a better life and fight unnecessary corporate greed that leads to unnecessary suffering,” he said.
As for being able to take the company’s old TikTok handle, Palmer said: “I guess you could say I’m a little surprised they made their username available, but it also makes sense that they’re careless.”
The strike at Buena Park is indefinite, with workers vowing to remain on the picket line until the company ends its alleged unfair labor practices. The union held a bargaining session with management on Wednesday at the same hotel where the replacement workers appear to be staying.
Zapcic said the strikers have been encouraging customers not to cross the castle picket line. Many, he said, are unaware of the labor dispute and are upset to learn from cast members that they have been replaced. The company has been offering credits and refunds to ticketed customers who prefer to wait until the dispute is resolved.
Like the Buena Park castle, workers at Medieval Times’ New Jersey castle are trying to negotiate their first union contract. They’re not on strike right now, but Marcus de Vere, a gentleman from New Jersey, said he’s inspired by his comrades on the opposite coast.
“I am extremely proud of you. It takes a lot of courage to do something like that, and they are fed up like we are,” he said of Vere. “They are simply telling the truth. What is this company afraid of?