The union representing New Jersey performers at Medieval Times has filed two unfair labor practice charges against the dinner entertainment chain, after the company sued it over alleged trademark infringement earlier this month.
Medieval Times, which operates a performance venue in Lyndhurst and nine other locations in the U.S. and Canada, filed a lawsuit in federal court on Oct. 13. It alleges the newly formed union co-opted the company’s branding when promoting its organizing efforts — using “Medieval Times” in the union’s name, and using castle imagery and colors similar to those used by the company.
Labor experts say the lawsuit is a unique approach to discouraging additional organizing efforts across Medieval Times’ other castle locations and bog the union down in legal fees — but say it’s unlikely to win in court.
“It sort of reeks a little bit of desperation,” said Carla Katz, a Rutgers University professor and labor lawyer.
Medieval Times Performers United includes more than 40 performers and is represented by the American Guild of Variety Artists. The guild called the lawsuit frivolous and a “grotesque attempt” to retaliate against workers. In response to the lawsuit, the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board last week, alleging retaliation.
“The company’s lawsuit is baseless and is motivated by an intent to retaliate against its employees for engaging in conduct protected by the National Labor Relations Act,” the guild said in a statement on Monday.
The union also filed a separate charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging the company is refusing to bargain in good faith on their first contract.
The knights, squires, trumpeters, and other performers in Lyndhurst formed Medieval Times Performers United and voted 26-11 to unionize in July, after workers complained about low compensation and safety concerns.
Medieval Times, which did not respond to emailed requests for comment, alleged in its lawsuit that the similar names between the union and the company could confuse consumers. The lawsuit said that could make the public think Medieval Times endorses the union or requires its employees to join. It said photos of the performers on the union website in their costumes and inside the castle could further fuel deception.
“A false affiliation between defendants and Medieval Times causes Medieval Times to lose control over its well-known brand as well as to subject Medieval Times to the risk that any acts by defendants could be mistakenly attributable to plaintiff by the consuming public,” the lawsuit states.
Labor experts said the lawsuit was an unusual tactic to dissuade organizing efforts.
“They're looking for new ways to bully the union and employees into some sort of submission, and I think it really is financial,” said Katz, the Rutgers professor. “Trying to cause them a loss of resources is possibly the only real goal.”
She said trademark law is generally meant to prevent confusion when consumers are making purchasing decisions.
“The idea that there would be confusion amongst consumers between the two entities, the business and the union, just seems implausible,” Katz said.
While New Jersey workers were the first to unionize, Medieval Times employees in California have also filed a petition to form a collective bargaining unit, according to local reports.
Josh Freeman, a history professor at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, said unions in the last few years more frequently carry the names of their employers, like Starbucks, Home Depot, and Amazon, a change from more traditional unions that represent an entire trade.
He said while he’d never seen a company file a trademark infringement suit as an anti-union tactic, it was common for employers to fight unionization efforts.
“That's not unusual at all, and I think that is part of the message that's being sent here: ‘We're gonna think of things you can't even imagine now that we're gonna try to make roadblocks to union,’” he said.