All of the King’s horses and all of the King’s men called for unionization on Tuesday.
Medieval Times Performers United, a group of workers at the Lyndhurst, NJ, theater said it had collected enough signatures to hold a union vote next month.
“We are the actors, stunt performers and stablehands of Medieval Times in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, united to create a fairer, safer and more enjoyable place to work,” the group said in a statement. “With an overwhelming support, we are excited to form our association with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA).”
The American Guild of Variety Artists, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, represents live performances at theaters and theme parks across the country. Notable performers who represent them include entertainers at Disneyland and the Radio City Rockettes.
Dinner theater workers said they intend to unionize to address pay, job requirements and concerns about working conditions and safety.
They said they will hold a National Labor Relations Board-backed election on July 15 at the Medieval Times Castle in Lyndhurst and are confident they will win.
Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, the Texas-based company that operates several theaters across the country, did not respond to a request for comment.
Medieval Times Castle in New Jersey hosts a series of two-hour meals and tournaments each day. Visitors can watch performers jousting on horses, sword fighting, and other games of skill. But among actors who play knights, kings, squires and stablehands, there are growing concerns about their pay, security and growing role since returning to work from the pandemic.
“They feel like they’re not being paid for their skills because they do a lot of stunt work and have been forced to do tasks beyond their job description,” said Susanne Doris, AGVA Executive Treasurer and former Rockette. “At first they went along as they had just come back from Covid but it kept going and they were understaffed. They’ve just reached a point where they’ve had enough.”
Although signed cards were collected from the vast majority of workers signaling their support for the organizing effort, Doris said the company had declined to voluntarily recognize the union.
She said the cast and AGVA lawyers had only spoken to company lawyers about the upcoming election and had not yet received any word from management about the union. But she said there was “great fear of retribution”.
The Huffington Post, which was the first to report the union effort, said the theater hired a $3,200-a-day attorney to persuade workers to vote against the union.
Doris said cast members were first told the lawyer was just an “educator” on the ins and outs of joining a union, but later admitted to staff that he was not neutral.
The Lyndhurst Medieval Times Castle effort comes amid a recent spate of successful unionization efforts across the country, from the organizing wave of Starbucks stores in the US to warehouse workers at Amazon and retail workers at Apple.
AGVA said it hasn’t spoken to the eight other medieval castles across the country, but Doris said that “if it’s the wish of the staff in each castle, we’d be happy to organize it”.