A labor attorney examines the idea of WWE mislabeling Superstars as independent contractors and how they could unionize.
It is no secret that pro wrestling started as a carnival sideshow act. If carnies of old were known for anything it was shady business dealings. However, over a hundred years later those kinds of shady behind-the-scenes business practices are still alive today as it seems to be ingrained in the soul of pro wrestling. The difference now is it is hidden behind complicated legal concepts and those deals are made in boardrooms and not circus tents.
One of the ways WWE has been able to have control over its wrestlers is by not allowing them to unionize.
John Pollock of POST Wrestling and Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics decided to explore what the Superstars would need to do in order to form a union by interviewing labor attorney Lucas Middlebrook. The first step would be as simple as trying to get at least 30 percent of its wrestlers to sign union authorization cards.
“From a practical standpoint, you want to go in with more than 30 percent because you could have certain roster changes that could affect that percentage,” Middlebrook explained. “But that’s the bare minimum that would need in order to file what they call a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board.” H/T To Wrestling Inc. For Transcription
A WWE Union
Wrestlers forming a union have been brought up a few times. One of the times it came close was in the ‘80s when Jesse Ventura started the process, but good ole Hulk Hogan was able to put a stop to it. With the process being so simple why wouldn’t it work now? According to Middlebrook one of the big challenges would be how WWE labels their Superstars.
If the wrestling superstars got their 30 percent and filed the paperwork WWE could say WWE Superstars aren’t legally able to unionize. The key argument is that they are not labeled as employees, but independent contractors. The concept is complicated but Businessnewsdaily defines the differences as:
“Employee is on a company’s payroll and receives wages and benefits in exchange for following the organization’s guidelines and remaining loyal. A contractor is an independent worker who has autonomy and flexibility but does not receive benefits such as health insurance and paid time off.”
Independent Contractors Vs. Employees Debate
The good news for WWE Superstars is that it would be up to WWE to prove they are independent contractors and not employees. According to Middlebrook, that could prove to be difficult for them.
One of the key parts which separates an independent contractor is their ability to work outside the company and make money outside the company. During the Twitch ban a few years back which saw many Superstars shut down their Twitch channel and to a lesser degree the Mandy Rose FanTime incident. Those incidents showed that WWE had a great degree of control over their Superstars and treated them like employees.
“Now you’re limiting what is supposed to be an independent contractor’s ability to earn outside of their primary work for you, the organization,” Middlebrook said. “I always felt like that was a big factor if it went to that independent contractor-employee analysis.”
WWE Limiting Outside Revenue Sources
The shutting down or limiting the use of other revenue generating platforms left a bad taste in many of the WWE Superstars’ mouths. This occurred during the pandemic when lockdowns were in effect and live shows were not happening so they were wrestling less. One way to earn extra money was through Twitch. The ban made wrestlers like Adam Cole and Saraya formerly Paige jumping to AEW a lot easier,
The question of extending contracts because a Superstar was out with an injury or suspended came up. Middlebrook revealed that it also helps the change in title from independent contractor to employee argument.
“You run into what really can be endless contracts or endless restrictions on the individual and, again, on their ability to earn outside,” Middlebrook said. “A true independent contractor can serve multiple masters. That was the intent from the beginning. In my opinion, employers have used that designation unfairly to their advantage to avoid the benefits that come with employee status, the payroll taxes that come with employee status – things along these lines.
And you see something similar in the UFC, too, where they can extend contracts based on turning down fights or something along those lines. […] In both of these industries, if you’ve ever read these contracts, these promotional contracts, the only way to describe it is tilted one way in favor of the entity. No question about that.”
Reclassification Around The Corner?
The reclassification of WWE Superstars would give them benefits like health care which is something they have wanted for a long time. The non-compete clause also falls into this category of “is that legal?” As independent contractors what right does WWE have to say “you can’t wrestle for anyone for the next 90 days” and not get paid?
What do you think of WWE Superstars forming a union? Will it happen? Do you think there will ever be a wrestler’s union and not WWE specific? Do you think WWE Superstars should be classified as employees? Let us know if you think Triple H will back the Superstars on this or pull a Vince and try to kill it.