Medieval Times’ Sound And Lighting Technicians Plan To Unionize

The rebellion inside Medieval Times’ Southern California castle has spread to another wing.

The castle’s sound and lighting technicians informed the company Tuesday that they intend to unionize, filing a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. The castle’s show cast formed a union of their own last year and have been on strike since February.

In a letter declaring their intentions, the technicians said they decided to unionize in part because of how management treated them during their co-workers’ work stoppage, “wherein we were wrongfully accused of sabotage.”  

The workers said they plan to join the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 504, the union that represents stagehands at Disneyland. In their letter, the workers said they want Medieval Times to pay better attention to safety and increase wages to “meet industry standards.”

“We do not take this decision lightly, and this vote is the outcome of months of decision making regarding the future of our department and the changes we seek,” the letter to management said.

The bargaining unit would include around a dozen employees.

Workers are demanding higher pay and safer working conditions at Medieval Times.
Workers are demanding higher pay and safer working conditions at Medieval Times.

Workers are demanding higher pay and safer working conditions at Medieval Times.

Medieval Times has struggled to quell a worker uprising that began last summer, when the show cast, knights and stablehands at its New Jersey castle joined the American Guild of Variety Artists. Performers at the California castle, in Buena Park, soon followed suit and joined the AGVA.

Until now, none of the technical workers who produce the company’s shows had requested a union election. If the California workers are successful, the effort could spread to the same group of workers at other castles. 

“We had always kind of joked about unionizing. A lot of technical jobs [in entertainment] are already unionized,” said Emily Schmidt, a sound and lighting tech. “After the strike happened, it got a lot more serious.”

The castle’s show cast and knights declared an “unfair labor practice” strike on Feb. 11, accusing the company of bargaining in bad faith and trying to silence them on social media. Much of the bargaining unit refused to work and held a picket line outside the castle, asking customers not to cross it.

We had always kind of joked about unionizing .... After the strike happened, it got a lot more serious.Emily Schmidt, sound and lighting technician at Medieval Times

The technicians were not part of the union and therefore continued working, but Schmidt said many of them supported the strikers for trying to improve their jobs. It was through the castle’s picket line that the sound and lighting technicians met staff from IATSE. 

“We have our own valid reasons to do this,” Schmidt said of the technicians. “That said, I don’t know if we would have had the drive to unionize if the events of the strike hadn’t happened.”

Medieval Times has strongly opposed workers’ efforts at unionization. In New Jersey, the company deployed an anti-union consultant at a cost of $3,200 per day, plus expenses, to discourage the formation of a union there. Managers also held meetings at the California castle aimed at tamping down the union effort.

In October, the company filed a lawsuit against AGVA alleging trademark infringement because of the name and logo workers had adopted for their union, Medieval Times Performers United. Later, the company appeared to have filed trademark infringement complaints against the social media accounts maintained by union workers at the California castle. The workers’ TikTok account was banned.

Workers filed unfair labor practice charges with the labor board, saying the company was trying to bully them into silence.

The sound and lighting workers requested that the company voluntarily recognize their union with IATSE ― an unlikely scenario, considering the company’s opposition to the earlier efforts. It’s more likely that the labor board would schedule a secret-ballot election so long as enough workers signed union cards.

An IATSE representative said the union had the backing of an overwhelming majority of workers in the proposed bargaining unit.

In their letter to management, the workers said they were “proud and excited to join an organization whose members are treated with dignity and respect.”