Erin Zapcic woke up Saturday morning to some unwelcome notifications on social media.
Zapcic, an actor who plays a queen at Medieval Times in Buena Park, California, also helps run Facebook and TikTok accounts for the new union representing workers at her castle. The notification from Facebook concerned a post by the union account that called on the famed dinner-theater chain to pay a living wage.
“Your post has been reported for trademark infringement,” it read, according to a screenshot Zapcic shared with HuffPost. “No one else can see your post. It was reported by Perico Montaner.”
Perico Montaner is the CEO of Medieval Times.
The news was even worse over on TikTok.
“Account banned,” a notification from the social media platform read, according to a screenshot. “Your account is banned for violating TikTok’s Intellectual Property Policy.”
A spokesperson for Facebook parent company Meta said the union’s post was incorrectly taken down and later restored. The company declined to comment further, citing litigation between Medieval Times and the union.
TikTok did not respond to HuffPost’s questions Monday regarding the banning of the union’s account. It’s not clear whether the complaint made to TikTok stemmed from the account’s name — @Mtunitedca, a reference to the union, Medieval Times Performers United, and its bargaining unit at the California castle — or the content of its posts. TikTok’s policy covers “copyrights, trademarks or other intellectual property rights.”
Zapcic said the accounts hadn’t drawn any complaints until a recent TikTok video gained some traction. The union had encouraged supporters to head over to Medieval Times’ Instagram account and tell the company what they think.
“Nothing had been an issue until all the sudden we had 30 comments on [a company] post saying, ‘Why don’t you pay your actors better?’” said Zapcic.
Medieval Times did not respond when asked via email if the company had made complaints to the social media platforms.
If so, those complaints would be in keeping with a lawsuit the company filed in October against the workers’ union — the American Guild of Variety Artists, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO labor federation — alleging trademark infringement.
AGVA and the workers named their union Medieval Times Performers United since they are performers who work at Medieval Times. The company said in its court filing that the union had created “consumer confusion” by referencing Medieval Times in its name and by using Middle Ages-themed imagery.
“The elements featured in the Medieval Times Performers Logo (i.e., castle, swords, old script style text) all resemble elements of Medieval Times’s branding and middle ages-themed décor, which are clearly meant to evoke Medieval Times’ unique image,” the company said in its lawsuit.
The union has called the suit “frivolous” and filed an unfair labor practice charge against the company over the complaint, saying it’s meant to intimidate workers and prevent them from speaking out through an implied threat of litigation.
“This is completely egregious and sets a dangerous precedent for unions and organizing campaigns in the future.”
– Erin Zapcic, Medieval Times queen and union committee member
Elsewhere, other new unions have similarly referenced their employer in their name — Starbucks Workers United, Amazon Labor Union and Trader Joe’s United, to name a few — but Medieval Times appears to be the only company that has sued over it.
Zapcic said she believes the company has now taken its trademark war to social media. Complaining to TikTok and Facebook would be more than just petty, she said.
“This is completely egregious and sets a dangerous precedent for unions and organizing campaigns in the future,” Zapcic told HuffPost. “This could happen to anyone.”
The fight over the union’s name is part of a broader labor dispute at the Texas-based company, which has nine U.S. castles and one in Canada. Employees have been pushing the company to increase pay — many workers start close to the minimum wage, often despite being trained actors and musicians — and to address safety concerns at the castles, including crowd control.
Workers at Medieval Times’ New Jersey castle became the first to unionize last year, followed soon by the workers in California, despite the company’s opposition. Medieval Times hired an anti-union consultant in New Jersey who gave speeches to workers there at a cost of $3,200 a day.
The union campaign has made for plenty of fodder on social media, where supporters can’t seem to resist the jokes and puns. (“The peasants are revolting,” etc.)
The union’s flagged Facebook post had piggybacked off a post from a company account for the Buena Park castle that celebrated cast members’ “Awe-inspiring horsemanship.” The photo showed a Medieval Times actor riding an Andalusian. “Our horses and cast are so talented,” the company’s post read.
“Appreciate the shout-out,” the union account wrote in response, tagging the company. “Now how about paying us a living wage?”
The ban notification from TikTok invited Zapcic to begin an appeal process on the platform. She said union members will discuss with their lawyers how to proceed. For now, if a TikTok user tries to visit the union’s page, they see a message stating “Couldn’t find this account.”
Zapcic said the TikTok account had been the union’s most successful so far on social media. Workers launched it in December and managed to gain more than 8,000 followers in a matter of weeks. She said it was a crucial avenue for getting the union’s point of view out to supporters and Medieval Times customers as workers try to bargain their contract.
“TikTok was our strongest, most passionate audience,” she said.