The AFL-CIO union attacks Linda McMahon's treatment of WWE wrestlers

As Daniela Altimari of the Hartford Courant reported yesterday, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO), a national trade union centre, has a sent a mailer to all its 38,000 members in Connecticut attacking Linda McMahon's treatment of her wrestlers during her days as WWE CEO. They are also sending out canvassers this weekend to Manchester, Norwalk, Norwich and New Britain, CT, in order to drum up support for her opponent Chris Murphy and will be lending him union activists to staff his phone lines.

The mailer, entitled "Linda McMahon doesn't care about working people", made the exact same points about WWE's handling of its workers that Richard Blumenthal did against Linda in 2010 and Murphy has done earlier in his campaign in one of his attack ads:

"[It] goes on to claim that WWE laid off 10 percent of its workforce while accepting millions of dollars in state tax breaks. It also alleges the Stamford-based wrestling and entertainment company denied health benefits to workers and expected "female employees to submit to sexual humiliation for the sake of...profit margins."

At the time of Murphy's ad, WWE responded to these allegations admitting that they had indeed laid off 10% of its workforce in 2009 "due to one of the worst economic downturns in history" (which Vince McMahon blamed on Barack Obama), but argued that they had since gone on a hiring spree (in preparation for the WWE Network) and now employs 700 people, more than a hundred extra staff than three years ago. They also made a robust defence of their classification of WWE wrestlers as independent contractors, which my colleague Thomas Holzerman called yesterday on a piece about TNA abusing that status "one of the most abhorrent parts of the wrestling industry":

"All 700 full-time WWE employees have always had health insurance as well as generous benefits provided by WWE. All WWE in-ring performers, ‘Superstars,' also have health insurance as a requirement of their contract with WWE. In addition, WWE pays for all medical treatment related to any in-ring related injuries and associated rehabilitation costs.

Like professional golfers and tennis players or entertainers such as actors and singers, WWE performers are independent contractors and are personally responsible for acquiring their own health insurance. The average compensation for our main-roster full-time Superstar is $250,000/year and no full-time performer makes less than $100,000 easily enabling them to afford health insurance."

It's worth noting that the contractual provision for WWE wrestlers to have mandatory health insurance that they pay for themselves was only initiated by the company last May, after it had become an issue for Linda McMahon during her last election campaign in 2010. Moreover, even though they are paid well by ordinary standards, due to their dangerous line of work an insurance policy will be very expensive for a WWE performer to obtain by themselves. Adding in all the road expenses that WWE refuses to pay for too, which actors and singers would get taken care of, the opening match acts that make the bare minimum $100,000 a year, probably don't have a much better standard of living than the average middle class family in Connecticut.

However, Irv Muchnick raises a great point about how much the AFL-CIO really cared about WWE workers when they were quiet as a mouse during the state of Connecticut's badly mishandled investigation into whether WWE had misclassified its wrestlers as independent contractors:

Big Labor had a chance to make a real statement here - not just put out a campaign press release - two years ago. And they blew it. So why should anyone listen to them today?

In 2010, while Richard Blumenthal was fending off Linda McMahon in her first race for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, WWE was under investigation by the state Labor Department under a tougher misclassification statute drafted by a bipartisan commission, on which Blumenthal had served as state attorney general....

The savvy WWE ran rings around the Labor Department audit; it was a squash worse than Ryback vs. Kay Fabe. In May 2011 the company settled with the state for $7,000, in a nickel-and-dime dispute over a couple of casual employees in the video department from years back, and WWE immediately leaked to the media that the probe was over, along with its comically de minimis substance. Labor Commissioner [Glenn] Marshall evidently did not push for examination of the status of the core employees of WWE's core business: the wrestlers.

If the AFL-CIO had publicly intervened during this audit, then maybe Marshall would have been compelled to take the local corporate giant on and fight their lawyers tooth and nail to attempt to correctly classify WWE wrestlers as employees. But, why bother, if no-one, not even the largest federation of trade unions cares to stand up to help WWE Superstars claim their illegally withheld benefits. Only now, when Linda McMahon is running neck and neck with Chris Murphy and her election is a much more distinct possibility than two years ago, a scenario that would surely threaten the AFL-CIO's interests, do they give two hoots about her ruthless exploitation of wrestlers. Maybe these two have much more in common than they would like to believe?

Meanwhile, in a story that would confirm the worst fears of the AFL-CIO, the Huffington Post reported yesterday that Linda McMahon told a group of her Tea Party supporters in Waterford, CT, on April 20th that she would consider a range of measures that would drastically overhaul Social Security to reign in costs. These include raising the retirement age from 65, introducing means testing and most ominously adding a sunset provision, presumably so that a less "generous" Social Security compact could be brought in for future generations. Given how cagey Linda has been about her real plans as Senator, I imagine that she didn't want these thoughts to a private, receptive audience to be published in the run up to the election. They give yet more ammunition to Chris Murphy to paint her as a greedy CEO out for herself, rather than the best interests of the rest of her local community. Just what she needs!

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