WWE might have finally pushed their workers too far

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World Wrestling Entertainment has long trampled on workers’ rights without anyone in the labor movement so much as lifting a finger in opposition. Their classification of workers as independent contractors isn’t new by any means, and neither is the lack of benefits for their performers, but WWE was basically left alone to do what they wished in this regard for decades. Now, though, they might have pushed too far, as the Screen Actors Guild is finally taking notice, and promising to begin protecting WWE’s independent contractors.

What brought on this sudden change in approach? That would be the firing of Zelina Vega, real name Thea Trinidad, for her refusal to hand over the keys to her Twitch account to WWE. Per a new edict from the world’s largest wrestling company, the third-party streaming accounts hosted by services like Twitch were actually under the jurisdiction of WWE: the plan, going forward, was to control those accounts, negotiate advertising partnerships themselves, and then divvy up the money generated by those platforms between WWE and the performers themselves. This is, in short, theft, as explained earlier this year:

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WWE claiming ownership of wrestlers’ real names and their money, too

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You might recall that, about a month ago, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) introduced a policy change for its performers, one that was exceedingly confusing and full of contradictory follow-up reports. Those wrestlers would be policed by WWE on their use of and relationships with “third-parties” like Twitch and Cameo, with the idea supposedly being that WWE was concerned about protecting their legal rights — like trademarks for wrestler names WWE owns. Basically, WWE didn’t like the idea of anyone making money on their own time if they were doing it using a name WWE owns, and decided they were going to take total control of those potential revenue-generating relationships.

The thing is, though, that WWE isn’t just doing this with the names they’ve trademarked. If a wrestler has a Twitch or a Cameo using their actual, real name, and not their WWE one, then WWE is still seeking control of those accounts and the dollars they generate. According to Wrestling Inc.’s reporting, WWE will take control of these Twitch and Cameo accounts by November.

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WWE policy change reopens question of independent contractor status

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The wrestlers of World Wrestling Entertainment perform exclusively for WWE. They travel across America, Canada, and overseas to perform live television shows multiple times per week, and have a touring brand for “house” shows, non-televised performances, as well. They do this 52 weeks per year, they do not get an offseason, and the physical toll on their bodies is obvious in a way it isn’t for most other non-football sports.

And yet, WWE’s wrestlers are not full-time employees. They’re independent contractors, without access to benefits or health insurance. They are responsible for arranging and paying for their own rental cars. They don’t, except in rare circumstances, receive a meaningful cut (or any cut) of merchandising revenue that their own performances drive the sales of. They are entirely at the whims of a 75-year-old egomaniac who equates WWE with wrestling itself and vice versa, and himself with both of those things as well. Saying no or making a fuss about anything could lead to being taken off of television, being let go, or having to spend months being publicly humiliated on camera.

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Apparently, sports will save the economy

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Independent contractor athletes, and COVID-19

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More athletes should follow Daniel Bryan’s lead on the climate

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The current NLRB is useless, unless you’re an employer like MLB

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MLB’s international events, lack of WWE union, and [robot] sports cops

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Can MLB’s supremacy be challenged?

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What Dallas Keuchel’s stand has in common with rideshare strikes and wrestling

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