The union boom reaches the Medieval Times dungeon

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Nov. 11. I’m Kinsee Morlan, one of the editors at “The Times” podcast, which is actually a lot like this newsletter you’re reading. So yeah, subscribe already, mmkay?

The Medieval Times. I’ve never been, but I know it’s a kitschy, touristy place where folks go to eat dinner while watching actors do medieval-style things like sword fighting and jousting.

What I did not know is that those jolly looking medieval knights, squires, lord chancellors and queens say they are often overworked, underpaid and enduring some dangerous working conditions.

Behind the curtain at Medieval Times, organizers were working to change all that by starting a union.

The election took place Thursday afternoon in the castle’s dungeon (seriously, though), where workers voted 27 to 18 to unionize.

The effort at Medieval Times is part of a larger trend in California and beyond. Organizing efforts have been reaching industries not traditionally represented by unions — quality assurance workers at a video game studio, strippers at a North Hollywood strip club, baristas at Starbucks.

“It’s an awakening that’s happened post-pandemic,” Lorena Gonzalez, the former assemblywoman who’s now head of the California Labor Federation, told me. “Everything is so out of balance, and all of the power lies with corporations and businesses, and so you have workers who are like, ‘Wait a minute …’ especially coming out of the pandemic, realizing labor means something.”

Approval of labor unions is at its highest point since 1965, according to a Gallup poll last year. Gonzalez says inflation is helping fuel that union flame.

“You’re raising prices on normal folks, and you’re not raising my wages? That does not make sense,” she said. “Workers are starting to realize that. They realize that corporations are playing this game and that the only recourse they have is their collective power.”

Gonzalez told me she has witnessed the growing interest in unionizing, not just through her new gig leading the California Labor Federation but also in her everyday life.

“Every time I wear my ‘Unionize California’ shirt or button … people stop me and ask me about it,” she said. “People are like, ‘Hey, could I have a union?'”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Well, that was a wild ride. One of the nuttiest police pursuits Southern California has seen in recent years went down in Los Angeles and Orange counties on Wednesday evening. The blow-by-blow replay of what happened is jaw-dropping, mostly because of the driver’s blatant disregard for human life. Los Angeles Times

The #MeToo movement, five years later. Mary McNamara’s insider view of what it was like to be a journalist in Los Angeles when the #MeToo movement gained widespread attention five years ago is haunting. Los Angeles Times

Rekindling the good times. The bustle is back at the Paramount Ballroom in Boyle Heights. An immigrant’s dream is what’s behind the revival of the venue. Los Angeles Times

Check out “The Times” podcast for essential news and more

These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning LA Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


OK fine. Let’s go ahead and acknowledge the midterm elections. Midterm results are still being tabulated, which is why I did everyone a favor by ignoring them until now. Go ahead and check in on the results if you must, but may I suggest that you instead read about how being an LA City Council member became political poison this year. Los Angeles Times

Where is your California inflation relief money? California has paid more than 7 million eligible residents under the state’s inflation relief program since it launched last month. The relief payments are meant to soften the blow of increasing costs, but there are still millions more who have not been paid, leaving many wondering: Where is my money? Los Angeles Times

Conservative San Diego not so conservative anymore. Whoa. San Diego’s sizable military population has long made the city a bit of an enclave for conservative politics. But the times they are a-changin’. For the first time ever, voters have given San Diego to an all-Democrat City Council. San Diego Union Tribune


California megachurch leader charged with murder. A Southern California woman and her parents have been arrested on allegations of child abuse in the death of an 11-year-old girl earlier this year, authorities announced. The woman was a high-profile member of a San Diego megachurch. CBS News


Cutting compensation for rooftop solar. For the second time in less than a year, regulators in California moved Thursday to roll back the compensation that homeowners receive from utilities for the excess electricity their rooftop solar panels send to the electric grid. Los Angeles Times

California vs chemicals. The state of California on Thursday sued the manufacturers of a class of chemicals known as “forever chemicals” that are found in a variety of consumer items including food packaging and cookware and are linked to cancer and other illnesses. Los Angeles Times


Inside the world of artistic swimming. The sport formerly known as synchronized swimming, until officials changed the name several years ago, has been made fun of in a “Saturday Night Live” skit and is often written off. But artistic swimming is a serious sport with roots that reach deep into California . Los Angeles Times

The future of fungi. Mushrooms are back in fashion. And the epicenter of LA’s mushroom boom is a 34,000-square-foot warehouse in Vernon, where Smallhold ramps up to grow more than 20,000 pounds a week. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: 69, sunny and clear. San Diego: 68, clear but cold for California. San Francisco: 58 and foggy as usual. San Jose: 61, partly cloudy. Fresno: 61 and cloudy. Sacramento: 60, partly cloudy.


Today’s California memory is from Ed Mitchell:

I moved to Fallbrook, a remote farm community in San Diego County, in 1941. My parents and I moved into a five-acre avocado grove. We drove to Mexico in 1945, and back then we called it “Tia Juana,” not Tijuana. The border crossing was two lanes, one for each way, and it wasn’t very busy. Going into Mexico, they just waved you by without stopping. Coming back, they just asked you what you bought, along with what country you were a citizen of. One car at a time. No waiting.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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