Eric Bischoff Discusses If Wrestlers Should Fight for a Union

Nov 19, 2020 - by James Walsh

In a recent edition of 83 Weeks, Eric Bischoff discussed WWE talent as independent contractors, the financial consequences for both parties, WWE overreaching on how much control it wants over its talent, and much more. You can read his comments below.

Eric Bischoff on Zelina Vega release’s and WWE talent as independent contractors: “I’ll be honest with you – back before I went to WWE as a talent for the first time, I did a fair amount of research on my just out of curiosity because I always felt that the independent contractor status in the business model that WWE uses that relies so much on the independent contractor status of its talent was an Achilles heel. It was just a matter of time before it was going to be challenged. Frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t been challenged sooner – surprised in many ways but in many ways I guess I shouldn’t be. There’s so much at risk. If I was a talent today – if I was 25, 26, 27 years old and was just beginning to get my feet underneath me within the sports entertainment industry as a performer – I can understand the tendency for people to get excited about this because they think it’ll benefit their lives, and in some way as a young talent, maybe it will. And maybe it will across the board in some ways and maybe in many ways if this whole unionization or reclassifying WWE talent and AEW talent – this is not just WWE because if this issue becomes a big issue, which I kind of think it will, it’s going to radically change the wrestling business, particularly in WWE because they’ve been around a lot longer.

“As a young talent or maybe a more seasoned talent who doesn’t really understand the potential ramifications……I can understand why it sounds great if we were a union and I would get this or that – and all those things are true in regards to health insurance or other benefits. But what does it do to the revenue model to WWE or AEW or any other televised wrestling company? It’s going to dramatically change the way people are paid, and it may not benefit talent as much as they think it will. There’s a lot of value in being an independent contractor. There are some downsides, there is a risk, but there are also limitations when you’re an employee or if you’re in a union. If I was a talent….be careful what you wish for, do your homework, think about it and think about the unintended consequences in the ways that you’re gonna be affected if the WWE talent model in terms of paying talent is dramatically altered. The strength of that company has been their core business model and the fact that their expenses were so directly tied to the company’s performance from a revenue point of view. If unionization becomes a real thing or even if unionization doesn’t but WWE is challenged in court by the likes of Andrew Yang and has to defend their independent contractor status for their talent, there’s a really good chance in today’s political environment that it’s not gonna come out good for WWE.”

On the financial ramifications if WWE is challenged in court: “There is no statute of limitations on back taxes. Can you imagine the fines and the penalties that could possibly exist if the independent contractor status of WWE is challenged? And WWE has to go back the last 20 or 30 years based on the amount of talent fees that they paid out and have to go back and pay social security and all kinds of other taxes and fines associated with it? And then comes the civil litigation. ‘Yeah, unionization sounds so great, and it’s like this silver bullet that cures all evils’ – but it’s really not, it can create a lot of evils and it can ultimately come back and put talent at a much greater disadvantage.”

On WWE overreaching with how much control it wants over its talent: “I’m saying for me personally, I love the freedom, I love my independence – the things being an independent contract provides to me are in some ways more valuable than money. I really love my freedom and flexibility. Not to throw any rocks here, but there’s a lot of freedom and flexibility that should exist as an independent contractor in WWE that doesn’t. I understand the conflict, I really truly do. I was an independent contractor working for WWE as a talent and I was told what I had to wear and how I had to dress on an airplane. You know me, I’m a casual kind of dude – not excited about having to wear a sport coat and tie on an airplane. But there was a point in time where that was the case. I think WWE has probably been guilty of overreaching in regard to the amount of control they want to exert over an independent contractor.

“I think that’s their Achilles heel and that will probably come back to haunt them at some point whether that goes all the way through to the extent that somebody actually does challenge the independent contractor status and it is determined independent contractors in WWE for the last 10 years or 20 years or 30 years have been misclassified, that opens a frickin’ can of worms that no wrestling company in today’s environment with everything that is going on can afford to deal with……it’s a challenging time in the wrestling business. I’m fearful for WWE and AEW because I’m not sure how this will all shake out and how dramatically it will affect those businesses, but I would encourage people who are independent contractors and associated with either company to be really careful and do their own research and think about how it will affect them in the long run – not in the short run, but in the long run how it will affect them before jumping on either bandwagon either for or against.”

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