Medieval Times performers in New Jersey vote to unionize amid statewide trend
LYNDHURST, N.J. -- The performers at Medieval Times in Lyndhurst just voted to unionize.
As CBS2's Ali Bauman reports, it's part of a larger trend.
Once upon a time in New Jersey, there was a group of knights unhappy with their wages and working conditions.
"I think almost everybody that works here, in our positions, have to rely on secondary incomes," performer Sean Quigley said.
He says the cast members, many of whom have to joust on live horses, are essentially stunt performers making about $100 per show.
"I've seen people at very young ages, 20, 21 years of age, who end up sustaining chronic injuries," Quigley said. "And sometimes they aren't physically able to continue working anymore, at which point, they'll leave the company and they're sent on their way with a pat on the back."
So, just last week the performers voted to unionize. They even did it with the support of Gov. Phil Murphy.
"They're excited at the idea that they get to continue to do their job in a situation where they can live comfortably and predictably, which is something they've been struggling with for years," Quigley said.
This knights' tale is part of a larger trend. A study from Rutgers University found that there are more New Jersey workers in a union now than there were before the pandemic.
"Considering it's been either steady decline or at best maintaining membership, it really is a kind of historic change in direction," said Professor Todd Vachon, director of the labor education program at Rutgers.
Vachon, who authored the report, says the pandemic was a turning point for many workers, especially those in the service industry.
"Many were facing really, you know, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, so that inspired a lot of collective activism on the job," he said.
The report found about a handful of other states are seeing a similar trend as New Jersey, and new union efforts, such as at the Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, are inspiring more workers.
"It really helped bring home to people that this is something normal," Quigley said.
"We're just going to be curious to see what it looks like two years from now when we do this report again, to see if it's just a blip on the radar or if there's really been a change in fortune for the labor movement," Vachon said.
Medieval Times management has not responded to CBS2's repeated requests for comment.
Now, the knights are getting ready to start negotiations.
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