By Angie Escalante
People continue to walk through the castle doors of Buena Park’s Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament despite the queens, knights, squires, emcees, lords and ladies standing outside with signs picketing.
“We are the performers of the Buena Park castle,” shouted Erin Zapcic, lead organizer and representative of the showcase department. “We are currently on strike, we have been on strike for 78 days! The company does not think they need to bargain with us because people like you cross our picket line every single day! You do not have to be that person! You can make a better choice! You can get a refund if you do not want to cross the picket line!”
Over the past three months, more and more supporters have shown up to stand with the striking performers.
Performers, servers and other employees walked out Feb. 11 and still little to no progress has been made to meet their demands.
The live performers had three days of negotiation with the company April 4, 5 and 6 where they made some progress on the collective bargaining agreement but barely any advances on the wages.
Recently, Jake Bowman, one of the lead organizers of the strike who represents the knights’ department, provided photo and video evidence of horse abuse happening within the castle walls.
“If you’re training your dog to sit right, you’re not just going to repeatedly beat the s— out of him with the whip until he sits down or lays down or something like that,” Bowman said. “That’s just not how you train animals.”
Bowman has been bucked off and kicked by a horse before which he said resulted in him breaking his back. He explained that the horse had been showing signs of back pain. The trainers allowed the horse to be ridden despite the signs of distress.
During negotiations, the performers presented the company with two and a half pages on horse training and safety protocols but nothing came out of it.
“(The company) rejected it all outright and replaced it instead with two sentences that essentially said the horse training and safety will be the same here as it is in all the other castles,” Zapcic said. “So, the major issues that we’re fighting for, we’re still very, very far apart from.”
As of right now, there are no more scheduled negotiating sessions.
Due to the lack of acknowledgement, Zapcic shares that they have upped their picketing tactics.
The parking lot has crosswalks to safely guide guests. Performers crossed every few minutes which slowed down the line of incoming cars to the park.
Some guests became aggressive and physically assaulted performers by shoving them, or running their car into the walking strikers.
“The man who did the shoving was arrested on the spot and taken into custody and everyone who was assaulted is going to be pressing charges,” Zapcic said. “But the driver of the vehicle did drive off and they don’t know who it is.”
According to one of the lead organizers, most people came out with bumps and bruises. The most serious injury resulted in a fractured tailbone.
The company painted over the crosswalks within the lot.
The sound and lighting department of the Buena Park castle has filed its cards and its election to unionize with The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada (IATSE) was expected to take place April 26.
The sound and lighting department employees have actively supported the performers from inside and protest with them on their days off. The department has thought about unionizing before and was finally pushed into it when the general manager accused the workers of sabotaging the show.
“The equipment that the general manager refuses to update stopped working in the middle of the show and he went into the sound booth and accused them of sabotaging the show because they support us,” Zapcic said.
On April 23, various different unions came out to stand in solidarity with Medieval Times Performers United.
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Game Workers of Southern California (GWSC), International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Communications of Workers of America (CWA), The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) were just a few of the allies that showed up.
Legal observers, individuals representing civilian human rights agencies, were also called in to make sure none of the performers’ rights are violated and that they are operating within the letter of the law.
CWA brought in Scabby, an inflatable rat that is a labor icon. The name plays on the term “scab,” which is a worker who crosses the picket line.
According to Robin Lobuglio, a game worker with GWSC, Scabby is also there to represent the “rat-like” behavior of some guests who continue to patronize the company during the strike.
“That’s the kind of tactics that management here has been using, flying in workers from other places instead of spending that money on better wages and figuring out how to make this a safer work environment,” said Brian Hill, another game worker with GWSC.
The unionized workers of the Buena Park castle believe they still have a long way to go before any real advancements are made.
“Don’t cross the picket line, don’t support this company,” Zapcic says. “There’s a lot of information that’s currently out there right now about horse abuse, about what’s going on here. So please just educate yourselves. The sooner we can start making a real impact, the sooner we can go back to work. And that’s what we want. We all want to go back to these jobs and we want to make this a better place to work for everyone, not just for us, but for generations to come.”