All the king’s horses and all the king’s men on Tuesday called for the 40 actors, stunt performers and stable hands who work at a Medieval Times dinner theater in New Jersey to unionize.
Medieval Times Performers United, a group of employees at the Lyndhurst, New Jersey theater, said it has collected enough signatures to hold a union vote next month.
"We are the actors, stunt performers, and stable hands of Medieval Times in Lyndhurst, New Jersey joining together in union to create a fairer, safer, and more enjoyable workplace," the group said in a statement. "With a supermajority of support, we are excited to be forming our union with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA)."
The American Guild of Variety Artists, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, represents live act performances at theaters and theme parks across the country. Notable performers they represent include entertainers at Disneyland and the Radio City Rockettes.
The dinner theater employees said they intend to unionize to address compensation, job requirements, and concerns about work conditions and safety.
They said they will hold a National Labor Relations Board-facilitated election at the Medieval Times castle in Lyndhurst on July 15 and are confident they will win.
Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, the Texas-based company that operates multiple theaters across the country, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Medieval Times castle in New Jersey hosts a series of two-hour meals and tournaments each day. Visitors can see performers joust on horses, sword fight and compete in other games of skill. But there has been growing concern among actors who play knights, royals, squires and stable hands about their pay, security and expanding roles since they've returned to work from the pandemic.
"They feel they are not being paid commiserate with their skills because they do a lot of stunt work and were being forced to do duties beyond their job descriptions," said Susanne Doris, the AGVA executive secretary treasurer and a former Rockette. "At first they went along with it since they just came back from Covid, but it continued and they’ve remained understaffed. They just reached a point where they had had enough."
Despite collecting signed cards from the vast majority of employees that signaled their support of the organizing effort, Doris said the company has declined to voluntarily recognize the union.
She said that performers and AGVA’s attorneys have spoken only to lawyers retained by the company about the upcoming election, and have yet to receive any word from management regarding the union. But she said there is "a great fear of retaliation."
Huffington Post, which was first to report about the unionization effort, said that the theater had retained an attorney at a rate of $3,200 per day to convince workers to vote against the union.
Doris said performers were first told that the attorney was just an "educator" of the benefits and drawbacks to joining a union, but he later admitted to employees when questioned that he was not neutral.
The effort at the Medieval Times castle in Lyndhurst comes amid a recent flurry of successful unionization efforts across the country, from the organizing wave of Starbucks stores throughout the U.S. to warehouse workers at Amazon and Apple's retail employees.
AGVA said it has not spoken to the eight other Medieval Times castles across the country, but Doris said that "if it's the employees' desire in each castle, we would love to organize them."