Working on the well-known dinner-theater chain Medieval Times comes with some distinctive occupational hazards. For occasion, typically a visitor who has emptied one too many goblets of booze begins banging the Middle Ages-style plates and bowls collectively.
Clanging the heavy dinnerware can spook the horses within the area, endangering the knights as they joust for the queen’s honor. It typically falls to the queen herself — a mic’d-up actor on a throne above the pit — or her chancellor, Lord Cedric, to softly admonish the overzealous crowd, all whereas preserving in character: Please, m’lord, don’t bang the plates.
“You can hear it backstage sometimes, it’s so loud,” mentioned Purnell Thompson, a stablehand on the Lyndhurst, New Jersey, location. “We’ve had people thrown off their horses from the horses getting spooked. There’s only so much you can do to keep them under control at that point.”
Safety considerations are an enormous purpose Thompson and different Medieval Times staff in Lyndhurst are attempting to kind the chain’s first union, employees informed HuffPost. They have been organizing their location with the American Guild of Variety Artists, an AFL-CIO union that represents performers at theaters, theme parks and touring reveals, together with the Radio City Rockettes and entertainers at Disneyland.
The knights, squires, present solid and stablehands of Lyndhurst will vote July 15 on whether or not or to not unionize below an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Around 40 employees could be included within the union. (Food and administrative employees look like employed below a separate company entity and wouldn’t be a part of the bargaining unit.)
Medieval Times, which didn’t reply to interview requests for this story, has opposed the union marketing campaign. Labor Department data present the corporate retained a union-avoidance guide at the price of $3,200 per day, plus expenses, to sway employees towards the union. Employees mentioned a number of anti-union confabs have been held on rehearsal days on the citadel.
“They treat a lot of the professionally trained actors like anybody can do this job. They treat a lot of the stablehands like we’re fully replaceable.”
– Purnell Thompson, Medieval Times worker
The guide may need his work reduce out for him. Medieval Times’ performers embody educated actors and musicians who’ve been members of different leisure unions, such because the Actors’ Equity Association or SAG-AFTRA, and already perceive the position collective bargaining performs of their business.
If the union succeeds in New Jersey, the Medieval Times marketing campaign might unfold to different castles all through the dominion, drawing the corporate right into a broader nationwide battle over collective bargaining. The Texas-based chain has 9 places across the U.S., in addition to one in Toronto.
HuffPost spoke to 3 employees supportive of the organizing effort, who mentioned they need to be handled just like the skilled entertainers they’re. They mentioned the pay at Medieval Times tends to lag behind comparable business work, with many performers beginning across the New Jersey minimal wage of $13 per hour and dealing years earlier than reaching $20. And they imagine some employees find yourself with essential duties, equivalent to dealing with horses, with out adequate coaching.
Every two-hour present at Medieval Times requires cautious planning and rehearsal. The knights are basically stuntmen, leaping from horses and smashing wood lances on each other’s shields as they joust. The present consists of advanced dressage actions, in addition to a falconer who handles a chicken because it flies by way of the world over the group. Performers typically do two and typically three reveals a day.
“They treat it like a normal job, and it isn’t,” one employee, who spoke on situation of anonymity for worry of retaliation, mentioned of the corporate. “Today [managers] will call us a sports team; tomorrow they’ll call us a theater. But we are treated like a business, like a normal 9-to-5 job.”
Inadequate staffing in a good labor market has led to a lot of security considerations, the employee mentioned. Some performers have felt overworked through the rebound from the pandemic and worry an accident throughout a stay present.
With restricted safety on the reveals, performers are those left to implement boundaries and police the group — together with when company attain out to the touch the falcon because it flies overhead, endangering the chicken and themselves. And employees say the rotating solid of queens is subjected to undesirable touching throughout pre- and post-show meet-and-greets with followers, particularly with so many bachelor events on the weekends.
“If you mix children, alcohol and animals, it can be a very interesting situation if you don’t have enough eyes on it,” defined one other employee. “Not having enough event staff, that puts a lot of people at risk.”
The worker recounted a widely known incident throughout a rowdy Saturday evening present when a drunken girl within the crowd made her method as much as the throne and tried to seize the microphone connected to the queen’s face, requiring the queen to fend the girl off on her personal. A police officer was within the citadel on responsibility, the employee mentioned, however he was attempting to maintain watch on the whole crowd.
The employee needs to see a higher safety presence, particularly on weekends.
“It feels like the customer experience so greatly outweighs not only our employee experience but our safety and our well-being,” the worker mentioned.
Thompson, 25, mentioned he and his co-workers are obsessed with their jobs and wound up at Medieval Times as a result of they love their craft. He has spent a lot of his life round horses and helps are inclined to the 2 dozen at his citadel, every with its personal persona. Most company don’t perceive the quantity of preparation that goes right into a present, he mentioned.
Three points he hopes the union can drive the corporate to deal with are security, pay and “respect.”
“They treat a lot of the professionally trained actors like anybody can do this job,” Thompson mentioned. “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. You can get hurt or die doing this.”
“If you mix children, alcohol and animals, it can be a very interesting situation if you don’t have enough eyes on it. Not having enough event staff, that puts a lot of people at risk.”
– Medieval Times worker
The Medieval Times marketing campaign has emerged amid a flurry of organizing exercise across the nation: A union marketing campaign at Starbucks has managed to prepare almost 200 shops in a matter of months, whereas different profitable campaigns have launched at Amazon, REI and Apple.
This just isn’t the primary time employees in Lyndhurst have tried to prepare: Actors’ Equity and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees narrowly misplaced an election there in 2006, with 16 employees voting in favor of unionizing and 18 towards. The unions alleged that Medieval Times violated the regulation through the marketing campaign and sought to have the election outcomes thrown out. A labor board listening to officer agreed, however the suggestion was overturned on appeal.
Workers concerned within the newest union marketing campaign say they lately acquired a go to from the corporate’s chief govt, Perico Montaner, whose household created the Medieval Times dinner present idea in Majorca, Spain, many years in the past. Montaner needed to listen to the considerations that had led to a union drive.
Plenty of staff have spoken up through the anti-union conferences, difficult the assertions made by the corporate’s guide, in accordance with employees. They mentioned they’re assured Medieval Times could have a union when the ballots are counted later this month.
“I know what acting unions are like, and I know that our situation has become pretty dire at the castle,” mentioned one employee. “Something has to be done.”