By Angie Escalante
A group of performers from the Medieval Times in Buena Park who voted to unionize in November with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) walked out of the arena Feb. 11. The actors allege they are now being sued by the company for trademark infringement for going by the name “Medieval Times Performers United.”
After the queens, lords, squires, knights and emcees walked out of the Buena Park castle the company struggled to fill in the spots left behind.
Graham Wojcik was one of many employees who joined a picket line outside the venue March 9. He said the company put its employees in the line of fire the day of the walk out.
“People who haven’t squired for like years had to come down from serving with sneakers, like normal everyday sneakers,” Wojcik said. “They kind of see the show every day but they don’t know what the squires do.”
The Buena Park castle has continued to hold its dinner and tournaments as scheduled.
The company has flown in performers from non-union castles following the walk out and has allegedly provided hospitality, airfare and paid days off to those performers.
“They scrambled together to pull off the show and basically continue to take everybody’s money while not negotiating with us,” said Erin Zapcic, one of the lead organizers of the strike. “There were servers that got pulled to squire in the arena, people who weren’t cleared to do different spots in the show.”
Aside from negotiating for higher wages, the union is asking for safer work environments.
The knights do their own stunts, fight with titanium swords and ride and jump off horses. Many have been injured during live performances and during practices, according to the striking employees.
Medieval Times shows are planned and practiced, management was not expecting their performers to walk out Feb. 11 with two more shows to go.
According to Alexander Silvestre, one of the knights on the picket line, the Buena Park castle performs more shows than any of the other castles. Currently it’s open six days a week and before the pandemic, it was open seven.
“(During the pandemic) we were promised by the management that there would be no extra shows until we had the staffing but a month later they just added triples, triples, triples till the weekends when we didn’t have anyone,” Silvestre said. “We were super stretched out, super overworked.”
A lot of the knights dedicate extensive hours to the castle, each employee allegedly being scheduled eight to nine hours, five days a week without consecutive days off.
“Sometimes we do way more than our particular jobs, kind of doing everyone else’s job. Maintenance, stable work, painting shields, feed (and take) care of horses,” Silvestre said.
According to the knights, they don’t get proper horse training and they learn through trial and error.
“It’s kind of like ‘We’ll give you a hint of working with the horses and then we’ll send you to the crucible’ and then we learn ourselves,” Wojcik said.
Josh Royce, another knight, and Silvestre share the same frustration with the lack of communication and improper follow-ups on the company’s regulations.
“They’ll claim that we’re going to have classes on horse etiquette and everything and then it just never happens,” Royce said.
“(Riding lessons) happen when something goes wrong in the show or they don’t like what they see and we’ll get blamed and told ‘Why don’t you do the job that we taught you?’ when in reality we didn’t really get taught,” Silvestre said.
The group of performers were vocal about their struggles and negotiations on their TikTok, which they claim Medieval Times reported and got banned.
“We want our TikTok account back,” Zapcic said. “We want access to our most supportive and vocal audience but we also want the company to actually negotiate with us and have a real conversation about wages because so far what they’ve been proposing is laughable.”
Zapcic claims the company proposed a 2% increase for Buena Park employees while non-union castles were given a 20% raise.
“We felt like they were silencing our voices and we had no choice but to speak louder, so we walked out,” Zapcic said.
Before the walkout there was a bargaining session scheduled for Feb. 15 but the company neglected to follow up. The performers rescheduled to have their collective bargaining agreement meeting on March 15 where Zapcic shared that she and the performers met with the company for several hours negotiating their terms. Still, not much was resolved.
“(There was) no real acknowledgement of the fact that we’re currently on strike or any conversation about how we can end this,” Zapcic said. “It was all just very much business as usual.”
Medieval Times’ corporate office could not be reached for comment. As it stands, there is another bargaining session set for April 4.
“There is a lot of advantage being taken of these people that love their jobs and I think we’ve hit a point where, you know, we’re just not willing to do that anymore,” Bradley Whitfield, one of the emcees of the show, said.
This story is developing