Labor Hits McMahon and WWE — But Didn’t Land a Punch When It Mattered

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Now, it’s all well and good that the AFL-CIO is reminding us of what a mean CEO Linda McMahon was when she helped her husband Vince run WWE. See “AFL-CIO Mailer Hits McMahon, WWE on Treatment of Workers,” by Daniela Altimari, Hartford Courant, But I have a couple of footnotes.

First, let’s deconstruct some of the usual b.s. from WWE. “All WWE in-ring performers, ‘Superstars,’ also have health insurance as a requirement of their contract with WWE,” the company says.

Yes, wrestlers now must have insurance that they pay for themselves! Thanks a load for this fine “benefit.”

The real issue is the misclassification of these de facto employees 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 msclassification statute drafted by a bipartisan commission, on which Blumenthal had served as state attorney general.

The state Labor audit rolled into 2011, when a Democratic governor, Dan Malloy (the former mayor of Stamford, where WWE is headquartered), took over from Republican Jodi Rell. Malloy brought in a new labor commissioner, Glenn Marshall, who as president of the Carpenters Union also had been on the misclassificaton-reform panel. (Marshall resigned from the Labor Department two months ago.)

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 Marshall evidently did not push for examination of the status of the core employees of WWE’s core business: the wrestlers. Or, excuse me, the Superstars, who cheerfully carry their own health insurance “as a requirement of their contract.”

A month earlier Marshall had accompanied Blumenthal to an event promoting a federal misclassification bill co-sponsored by the new senator. Both ducked questions about the Labor Department audit and WWE’s absurd classification of its wrestlers as independent contractors.

So Connecticut is another one of those places with a serious disconnect between politics and policy. When the loser of a statewide race who is a genuine corporate bad guy rises again, and no one even does any work to expose and fix her genuinely bad practices, then the people of the state proceed to watch her rise again to within an inch of power, for no good reason.

That is why I’m largely sitting out the commentary of this year’s McMahon vs. Chris Murphy race. One way or the other, Nutmeg Staters again seem poised to get the leader they deserve.

Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick