Workers at the dinner theater company Medieval Times are unionizing their castles. They took us behind the scenes to expose how they’re treated by company overlords: paid low wages, risking serious injuries, even being sued by management.
New Jersey workers won a union in July. California just unionized in early November. A full transcript of our video with the Medieval Times workers is below.
[Christopher Patrick Lucas]: Welcome, my friends, to medieval times, a magical place where you’re transported back to the days of knights on horseback, jousting…
[Sean]: The castle of her majesty, the queen, here in rural New Jersey…
[Monica Garza]: See my lovely falcon, and my brave and noble knights…
[Sean Quigley]: As much fun as it is living in the Medieval Times for a small period of your day, it’s not as fun living in the Medieval Times 365 days a year, when it’s your job to do it.
[Christopher]: In real life? Eh… they don’t treat their employees so well.
Working in Medieval Conditions.
[Christopher]: So Medieval Times is a dinner theater. It’s stepping back in time to the 1100s and going to a noble medieval pageant, just with Pepsi and air conditioning thrown in as well.
[Christopher]: When Phantom of the Opera closes, we will be the longest running professional theatrical production in the New York city area, 30 years, nothing even close to that, in a theater of that size.
[Monica]: By all accounts, this is a professional show, so it is odd that your performers who are putting on this show are being paid like entry level workers.
It is ironic that we play nobility, queens, lords, ladies, and our audience doesn’t realize how we go home in a broken car, to an apartment with five other roommates, hoping you have enough money for food on the table. It’s not to say we expect to be treated like queens, but I expect to be treated like a human being.
In June, performers in New Jersey announced they were unionizing with the American Guild of Variety Artists.
[Monica]: When we got back from COVID, everything was a lot harder. People who were already struggling, are now putting all of their time and effort into this castle, and yet we’re still scraping by. And it just felt like something needed to change.
[Sean]: Shortly after we filed for a union vote, they brought in a “labor educator.” I believe they paid him $3,200 a day, we found out later on.
[Monica]: It was a punch in the gut, that they were willing to spend this much money on someone to tell us that we don’t deserve a union.
[Christopher]: We are a team there, and the show doesn’t go on without the team working together — the stable people, the knights, and the cast members.
[Monica]: After years of union votes and losses, our voices were loud enough to be heard, and that felt really good.
[Christopher]: Our castle was the first one to kickstart this idea of bringing in the union, the company knew that once that happened, all the other castles were going to take notice.
The union movement spread quickly to Buena Park, California
[Erin Zapcic]: New Jersey taking that first step really was the catalyst for all of this.
[Tim Doupe]: We’ve talked about this, at least among the knights for years.
[Erin]: At the Buena park location, we are the busiest castle.
[Erin]: Broadway does 8 shows a week. We do anywhere from 10 to 16 during our regular period. And at our busiest time we do 21 shows a week.
[Josie Martinez]: Understaffing is like a plague throughout the castle.
[Erin]: I experienced an injury about a year ago. I want to be clear, it was not an issue of someone not doing their job. It started with being understaffed in stables, which led to my horse being brought down late, and we didn’t have the time to do all the safety checks we’re supposed to do. By the time I made it through the tunnel I was falling off the horse.
[Tim]: That’s just an inherent danger of the show. There are live stunts, live animals, anything can go wrong.
[Tim]: The highest level stunt is called the roll off. The horse is running, maybe 25 miles an hour. What you gotta do is kind of lean over, throw your right leg over the horse’s haunch, and then roll into the sand. That is the stunt that I was not doing too well, and herniated my disk from it.
[Erin]: My ex-boyfriend’s brother was a knight, and he had to have back surgery at 25 years old.
[Tim]: Mistakes happen, someone doesn’t get their shield up in time, they get an ax to the face.
[Erin]: I looked down, and there was a knight bleeding from his forehead because he got cut with the sword.
[Tim]: Our own showcast manager had his leg shattered along the wall, because his horse got scared.
[Tim]: Primarily, we want the company to recognize the inherent danger, and then have us be compensated accordingly.
In July, the New Jersey castle won its union. But Medieval Times hasn’t stopped union busting.
[Christopher]: The local of our union is called “Medieval Times Performers United” to identify to the public who we are, and they decided to file a lawsuit because we used the name “Medieval Times” in the union.
[Sean]: What we’re currently facing at the bargaining table is an empty chair.
[Monica]: We’d love to be facing something. We put in so much work into writing a good contract that we think is fair and is going to keep people safe. We were so excited about what we came up with. And they were like, “we reject all of it.”
[Sean]: We’re using the bargaining table to try and get the best deal for our fellow coworkers. They are using it as a tactic to drum up as much anti-union sentiment as they can amongst the other employees from the company throughout the country.
[Christopher]: Medieval Times, they have 35 million people coming to see them, and all we’re asking for is that the benefits get shared among everybody.
[Monica]: I love the show. I love being queen. I know the audience loves the show, and they just want what’s best for us, and we just want what’s best for each other. This wasn’t meant to start a fight, it was meant to end a struggle.
Filmed by Scotty Wagner and Evan Carter