Union’s First Contract? More Faltering Steps And A Full-On Stumble For Organized ‘Castles’

by | Mar 18, 2024 | Bargaining/Negotiations, Industry, Labor Relations Ink, Labor Relations Insight, Service Industry, Strikes, Union Leaders, Union Organizing

It’s time for another episode of the “Union’s First Contracts” show, which was recently launched by our own Michael VanDervort, who highlighted how hammering out a first-time collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is rarely a timely matter.

The experience remains lengthy and complex, as these high-profile examples confirm:

  • Nine U.S.-based REI stores have been organized over the past two years, and zero union contracts have materialized between the company and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.
  • At the solitary Chipotle location that unionized a year ago, the Teamsters have likewise been unable to secure a contract.
  • Apple’s negotiations with two unionized stores are “moving slowly” for the foreseeable future, according to a Communication Workers of America official, more than a year after the first union victory.
  • At a Trader Joe’s store, a union activist foresees that at least a year remains before a contract could come together.
  • Union members at Half Price Books are in the same predicament, once again proving that winning a union election does not mean that a contract will quickly, let alone ever, follow.

That brings us to fresh news of a crumbled union at Medieval Times, eighteen months after workers in California voted to form the dinner theater company’s first union of knights, queens, and other costumed performers. These workers joined the AFL-CIO-affiliated American Guild of Variety Artists (AVGA), which unionized a second “castle” but is now giving up the fight.

Last week, the union communicated that it would cease representation of workers at two organized “castles” in California and New Jersey. This has happened for a few reasons: (1) Negotiations between the union and company failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement; (2) Most organized workers have left the company, and new hires did not support the union.

What happened? The union protested stalled negotiations by waging a nine-month strike at the California castle, where “replacement knights” from other castles and new hires filled the gaps. Although several staff workers returned to their positions after the strike, only five union members who struck are still employed by Medieval Times. In the meantime, workers at non-unionized castles have enjoyed wage boosts while jilted union members were left without recourse after their union leaped into the moat.

Indeed, the costs of battling a union after an election victory are enormous. Just ask Starbucks, where Workers United hasn’t yet secured a contract for 400+ unionized cafes but has dragged the company’s reputation into the muck. This led to recent soul searching and the company reopening negotiations with the union. It’s a seemingly unending headache with no cure other than to foster exceptional workplaces where workers will not want to turn to unions in the first place.

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