New union for fighters: Exclusive interview with Lucas Middlebrook

Fighter Magazine Sweden got a chance to interview Lucas Middlebrook, labor lawyer of the Professional Fighters Association before he announced his withdrawal from the organization on Monday, November 29.

The Association aims at organizing professional fighters and had a bumpy start after a list of potentially interested fighters was leaked, causing both Middlebrook and UFC fighter Leslie Smith to disassociate themselves from the PFA. How the leak happened is open for speculation, but there’s a good amount of activity right now. The announced press conference later today (November 30) by former champ Georges St-Pierre likely has connections to unionizing the pro fighters.

The Q&A with Lucas Middlebrook below gives an overview of the first steps of the PFA.

What in the case of PFA is the difference between a union and an association, regarding working conditions, legal status, and ability to influence?  

– The main difference is that if and when a union is certified by the National Labor Relations Board in the U.S., the employer (here the UFC) has a legal obligation to bargain in good faith over the terms and conditions of employment.

Others have tried and failed, what makes you confident getting wind beneath the wings of PFA? How do you build credibility in front of the fighters, in front of the UFC, the public, legal instances, and as an organization?  

– We feel that we have a good team of professionals in place with experience in the sports world as well as labor law issues, which will arise during the certification process. We are working to develop a network of fighters in order to facilitate the process as well.

You need the authorization from around 200 of the roughly 600 fighters on the UFC roster. To make a change, it seems like you need some of the big moneymakers in the UFC from the beginning, in order for the more “expendable” ones to join in. Correct?  

– It would be wonderful to have big names support PFA publicly, but the authorization card process is confidential. Unless a fighter chooses to publicly profess his or her support, we will keep those in the strictest of confidence.

Is there a risk of sanctions against them or has strong-arming already occurred from the UFC?  

– That fear is always present in any union organizing campaign, but there are protections under the National Labor Relations Act, which make it illegal for an employer to engage in such tactics.

Has the UFC in fact filed a legal challenge in front of the National Labor Board? And what does that really mean?  

– They have not. If the National Labor Relations Board were to confirm that PFA submitted enough cards, the burden would then be on the UFC to prove that the fighters were independent contractors and not employees.

Whether independent contractors or employees, is there no right to get organized in any case?   

– If the NLRB determined the fighters were independent contractors as opposed to employees there would be no legal right under the Act to organize.

How do you envision the structure of the league once the main reforms demanded by the PFA have been realized? Can parallels be drawn with the tennis and golf tour, American leagues such as the NFL, NHL, NBA or inspired by the football leagues of Europe and South America, where the fighters would compete as teams?  

– We would envision a structure similar to the NBA, MLB, NFL and MLS, where revenue sharing between the League and the Player Unions is close to 50/50.

Are there perhaps more similarities between UFC fighters and music artists, rather than with the aforementioned sports when it comes to unionizing and labor rights issues?  

– We feel that the relevant comparators are other professional sports leagues.

Will you be able to represent fighters based outside America in the same way as U.S. fighters? Will coaches and/or other fighter team members or personnel be represented by the PFA?  

– As long as the international fighters perform some of their work in the United States there is a strong argument they will be in the bargaining unit if PFA is certified. The union membership would be limited to the fighters and not their coaches, trainers, etcetera.

Will the board be democratically elected? Have representation from all countries with fighters in the UFC?

– Yes – PFA will be run solely by the fighters and they will get to vote on which fighters will serve on the Executive Board.

Will there be any difference whether the fighter is non-American or if the event is held outside the U.S.?

– Yes. As I mentioned earlier, there could be an argument from the UFC that if an international fighter never performs any UFC work in the U.S. that they should not be included within the bargaining unit.

Would the PFA take over the role of management and represent fighters legally vis-à-vis sponsors or in other ways?  

– No. The fighters would still be able to conduct these practices through their agents and managers.

Are you advocating a yearly salary with match bonuses rather than pay per fight?  

– The structure of compensation is negotiable, but we would fight for a minimum payment structure similar to the other professional sports leagues.

What are the greatest risks that the PFA faces right now, and when do you expect to be fully operational?

– Collecting the requisite amount of authorization cards to file with the NLRB is the greatest challenge as of now – it takes time and work from the ground up. We would like to see an NLRB filing within a year.

What in your estimate is a reasonable minimum wage for a UFC fighter?  

– We are still analyzing that with our economist.

Will you play any part in lobbying for security issues such as rule changes, weight classes, weight cutting, doping, legalizing MMA etcetera?  

­– Yes, as with any union, there will be a lobbying component once the organization is certified.

What kind of member benefits will you be offering from the start?  

– At the beginning the benefit will be collective representation with legal and economic professionals to assist.

How much will it cost the fighters to be members?  

– The amount of dues will be voted upon by the fighters.

More information http://profighters.orgTexten på svenska hittar du här.


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