Found this off a petition site. I remember thinking about this a while ago, but not really knowing a lot because I'm a teenager and I don't know the economics of it. What is the McManagement stance on this? I seem to remember that someone (that maybe Slaughter) got fired because he was trying to start one. Again I don't know the economics side of it, but I don't see why wrestlers don't have a union. I'm presuming that WWE covers healthcare and all that, but it ends when a contract is terminated. But what about those who retired from the business, like Michaels and Flair? Michaels probably saved up, but with all of Flair's marriages and the TNA thing I just don't see it. What do you all think?Should the WWE wrestlers form a union?
Right now, wrestling is in a rare situation. Before, there was competition. Before the 1980's, there were territories fighting over the best talent to obtain larger drawing crowds for their areas. With the advent of cable television in the 1980's, Vince McMahon and the WWF caused the break up of territories and a rise of a major competition between AWA, NWA, and WWF. AWA quickly died while Ted Turner's money saved NWA from extinction. Turner renamed NWA to WCW, and WCW would eventually become a major challenger to the WWF in 1995 with Monday Nitro. The two would square off until in 2001 when AOL/Time Warner pulled the television plug on WCW to enable the WWE to buy them.
The point? The simple fact that when there's competition, wrestlers have a second or third (or more) options to wrestle. Now, the only guaranteed money is with the WWE (WWE acts as a monopsony, the only buyer in a labor market). NWA-TNA is still and upstart promotion. Guaranteed contracts are rare and there's no guarantee that the fed will still be around by next year. TNA just inked a deal with Spike TV, but that's for late Saturday night. You can just view TNN/Spike's relations with ECW on Friday nights to see how well the TNA deal might be. In addition, TNA isn't exactly winning over old fans or creating new ones with their Pay Per View or Fox Sports shows. They have a long ways to go before they can become a nice, secure place for wrestlers to go to earn a living.
With all of this being said, the WWE is the lone superpower in professional wrestling. They are the only promotion to be on in prime time. They pay in downside guarantees, and it's the most secure wrestling job out there right now. Otherwise, wrestlers have to pray that TNA does well or roll the dice with Independent payouts. Recently, though, independent payoffs have been lower since the overall demand for wrestling has diminished. Top name wrestlers who aren't in the WWE can no longer command the high pay demands they once had. Therefore, most wrestlers must flock to the WWE. But since the WWE is the lone superpower in the wrestling industry, they basically face the decreasing costs of a lost fanbase. When the ratings and houseshow attendance drops, the WWE no longer makes the money they once did during the roaring late 1990's or early 2000's. Profit is basically defined as total revenues (from ticket sales, advertisements, stocks, merchandise sales, autograph signings, or any other money generating avenue for the WWE) minus total costs (labor costs, production costs, rent, interest from loans, etc.).
Most often, to keep the profit margin high, labor costs appear to be the easiest to cut. As you can see here in the United States, when a major corporation sees lower quarterly earnings, what's the first cost they cut? Labor. Usually, thousands instantly lose their jobs, which is what we saw during 2000-2002 to help increase the unemployment rate as the booming late 1990's economy cooled. In addition, to increase the profit margin, many corporations have begun to ship jobs overseas, a decision that hits loyal labor union members hard. When employers cut labor, they usually micromanage and increase responsibilities of current workers. The Titan Towers, for instance, has many office employees working several different tasks due to the recent WWE job cuts. Also with the WWE labor cuts, it's enabled the WWE to cut wrestlers while promoting more Ohio Valley Wrestling performers at a lower wage rate.
But do the WWE workers HAVE to take this? In professional sports, they have labor unions that protect their players from various actions by the owners or the league. In Hollywood, there are guilds for writing, acting, directing, among other things. In other professions, labor unions are used to present a more secure workplaces so that employees don't have to find a new job often (searching for new jobs takes time and money). Right now, the WWE wrestlers are working year round, sometimes 7 days a week with more than 8 hours a day. The perform a task that is NOT healthy for the human body. While most are paid over $100,000, many have to pay for hotel rooms, food, rental cars, and that salary is also placing them into a higher tax bracket. Right now, there is no long term retirement plan for wrestlers. Wrestlers are insured only if they are currently employeed by the WWE. But as we saw with Andrew "Test" Martin, he was released just after he had recent neck surgery, and recently removed wrestlers from the WWE won't continue to receive healthcare benefits. It can be argued that wrestlers are overworked, working in unsafe conditions, and have no future earnings due to nothing of a retirement plan... This has prompted some discussion on a wrestler union, whether it's with the WWE or in general (like the actor's guild).
Wrestlers like Roddy Piper and even Hulk Hogan have discussed the issue of wrestler unions. Piper, especially, as he is quoted as saying in his book "while wrestling today is a huge moneymaking business, I believe many things haven't changed in the industry, and wrestlers are still being used and exploited" (Piper/Picarello, pg. 236, 2002). Piper was actually employed in the WWE during 2003 but was quickly released when his opinion about promotions exploiting wrestlers aired on "Real Sports" on HBO. Hogan's position on unions for wrestlers have changed, based on how much money he makes during a certain period of time. Usually, the drumbeat for wrestler unions gets louder when wrestling's popularity and drawing power diminishes. For the rest of this column, we'll discuss the need for a union in the WWE, the benefits, the costs, among many other things.
I. The Need for Unions
Unions rose in the United States after the American Civil War. The Industrial Revolution started to really boom and cities began to grow. Before, we were a nation of farming and had businesses where workers knew their owners with a personal relationship. However, as the Industrial Revolution hit the United States, people began to move into cities and work in larger factories. Many factories were highly demanding on time or were unsafe. Workers began to lose that personal relationship with the owners as factories and businesses became more corporate. They were able to continually increase the scale of their operations and generate larger profits. Meanwhile, the workers were working longer hours and in very unsafe conditions (producing steel still isn't safe, but it's nothing like back in the late 1800's or early 1900's for that matter). But what could an individual worker do? They no longer knew their employer, for they were like a drop of water in a bucket. A corporation could care less about one worker out of a hundred or thousand, or so. But, if many individuals could band together and become one loud voice, then maybe changes at the workplace (shorter work day, safer working conditions, better pay).
That's EXACTLY what happened! Workers began to strike, and after a while, they became organized enough to have bargaining power with a corporation. As time passed by, as well as legislation to enable unions to collectively bargain, unions became stronger and stronger. The workday was then shortened to 8 hours a day for 5 days, salaries/benefits increased over time, and working conditions have become much safer. Union membership probably peaked around the late 1950's/early 1960's of around 25% of the labor force, but have diminished since to around 13% these days. The decrease can be explained to the lasting effect of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 that made it illegal for workplaces to require union membership just to work somewhere, various safe working conditions laws (OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration), losses in comparative advantages in longtime unionized industries (steel, tires, textiles), and sending jobs overseas. Union membership might take a hit after the recent AFL-CIO break up, too. Meanwhile, though, many unions remain strong. Baseball arguably has the strongest union around, while many government jobs have very strong unions protecting their industries (like teachers) (Miller, 2004).
Wrestling may fit in with the history's need for a union. Again, the WWE appears to be the lone provider of a nice, secure salary to be a professional wrestler. With that being said, the WWE wouldn't offer larger guarantees in the absence of competition, and they can cut wrestlers at will without fear of them performing for strong competition. Let's look at each of the wrestler's possible needs for a Labor Union.