TThe life of a knight is full of danger and uncertainty. Fencing and sword fights affect the body – as do the long hours of training required to maintain those skills. Knights are seen to lead, inspire, and protect. Their position is one based on passion and rewarded with glory.
But glory doesn’t pay the bills, especially when a gallon costs $5 to fuel one’s horse. The rising costs are one of the many reasons why the Medieval Knights of the Dinner and Tournament in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, embark on a noble endeavor to form a union.
Employees involved in the union’s efforts said independent This, combined with low wages, employment and safety issues prompted them to organize.
“It’s just about respect, money and management,” says Anthony Sanchez, a jockey who has worked for the Medieval Times in Lyndhurst for nearly eight years. “You work here and you smash your body, and they basically don’t care and will throw you away because they have this weird idea of having a line outside the door of people who want to work here.”
Employees at the New Jersey site say the company has ignored their safety concerns and requests for better pay, often giving them the impression they are interchangeable. They say complaints that customers harassed and sexually assaulted employees during parts of the show were not taken seriously by the company.
“We have tried to address issues of sexual harassment and assault through suggestions,” says Zaire Wood, who has worked for the Medieval Times for four years — first as a springboard and today as a jockey.
“At least once a month, a drunk guest could feel very comfortable and be confronted but not taken outside. We felt the consequences were disproportionate to the crime.” There was no way to communicate [these concerns] without feeling uncomfortable. This was a situation where employees would not feel that they would be cared for.”
Public touching of the performers was raised many times, but the problem was “with the help of the band” by the company, according to Sanchez. It wasn’t until the staff applied for recognition from the guild that action was taken and the main stage was completely closed to guests, he adds.
About 40 employees—including jockeys, boxers, stunt performers, and steady hands who stage the nightly show in the medieval-style theater and restaurant—will vote later this month to become the first union in the company’s history.
Founded in 1983, Medieval Times employs more than 2,000 people in nine locations across the United States. On a typical night, customers wear paper crowns as they take their seats in a huge plaza to watch a live choreographed show where knights battle with knights with swords and spears. The show’s crew is represented by actors and stunt people, and they perform stunt jumps and acrobatics. The storylines change every 4-5 years, and the current show, which has been running since 2017, is about a vile misogynistic queen and knight.
During the show, audiences celebrate Medieval-themed foods like roast chicken and corn, no utensils—to be historically accurate (though the company also offers “a range of meal options for those who are vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free, as ordered by the Queen”). ).
The push for recognition in the Medieval Times comes amid a wave of union efforts in the private sector across the country, fueled by a shift in how people view their relationship with employers as a result of the pandemic. Union membership in the United States has been declining for decades, despite a brief increase from 10.3 percent to 10.8 percent of the total workforce in 2020. But a number of recent high-profile efforts have seen employees at both Starbucks and the nation’s second-largest employer, Amazon, federation for the first time. Between October 2021 and March of this year, the National Labor Relations Board said petitions for representation increased 57 percent compared to the same period last year. President Joe Biden lent his support to both efforts and labor organizing in general, declaring himself the “most pro-union president in US history,” and public approval of labor unions was at an all-time high. since the sixties.
It is a sign of how widespread pro-union sentiment was, as medieval knights and clerks joined the wave of guilds. The employees of the company say that it is a long time ago. The pay hasn’t been great at all, but working for the Medieval Times comes with a certain amount of prestige, and even local fame, which makes them look for it. Until he found some knights Viral fame on TikTok.
But employees say the company has tapped into their passion for the job, and used that prestige as an argument against a salary increase. Concerns about crowd control have become more prominent during the pandemic, when employees have had to worry about illness in addition to everything else they encounter. Inadequate staffing has left staff feeling tired and worn out, something they say puts their safety at risk in both the arena and the stables.
The reaction from management, or the lack of reaction, is ultimately what has prompted employees to have conversations about everything from salary to hiring and poor treatment in general. Long-term employees say their experience has rarely been rewarded with a better pay. A New Jersey rider who has been with the company for years will get roughly the same price—about $16 an hour—as a newbie in South Carolina.
These grievances are not new. Employees at the Medieval Times attempted to reunion in 2006, and raised many of the same issues. according to The New York Times According to a report from the time, long-term employees of the company noticed the show’s “company” around 2000, when the company “began to standardize combat choreography, so that two knights could seamlessly replace one another.”
Employees say this consolidation allows the company to dismiss any discussions about a pay increase to date.
“They never made such good bonuses,” says Sanchez, a former US Marine. “Once you learn everything in the show, they have no real reason to give you a good raise.”
“We bring things up and management says ‘If you don’t like it, find a new job,'” he adds.
Amid the rising cost of living across the United States, managers’ refusal to discuss a salary increase prompted staff to act. Last month, organizers applied to form a chapter of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), which represents Disneyland’s performers, among others.
“We are beginning to understand how we all struggle, between our cars — going to and from work — our bills. It becomes clear that if we don’t encourage ourselves to try to get better quality work, we won’t be able to do something we enjoy so much,” says Wood. .
Employees will vote on whether to become the company’s first union on July 15, a development that could trigger similar efforts at Medieval Times branches across the country.
In response, the Medieval Times resisted and the staff accused her of involvement in union-busting. The company has even hired a “labor advisor” who represents companies that want to avoid union efforts. Employees say the consultant described himself as a “labour guru” and approached some employees in hopes of changing their minds. He charges $3,200 a day on top of his trouble expenses, according to A The document he viewed independentA sum of money that angered Medieval Times employees who repeatedly demanded better salaries.
“I’m not a unionizer, but it’s very hard for me to see our appreciation as much as they say we are. They pay someone $3,200 a day to help fight that effort, and when people asked for an extra $5,000 a year and were told it’s been a tough year, And they’re trying to get things back on track,” Sanchez says. “It makes me sour.”
Lyndhurst Castle has also received a flurry of visitors from corporate headquarters, according to the employees — CEOs and general managers, some of whom are former knights themselves — all doing their best to persuade employees to vote No.
However, the employees are confident that they will get votes this time around. Wood hopes that coming together, the knights, the boxes, and the stable crew will help inspire others to do the same.
“I really hope that encourages others,” he says. “The decision to reach out to each other was actually the bedrock of what we had already started to have a conversation about forming guilds.
“If people want to help us, I feel they can start by helping themselves, trying to connect with their co-workers and trying to understand their position on any potential union.”
Medieval Times did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.