WrestleMania will take place in Atlanta in 13 days. The following night the World Wrestling Entertainment crew will do a live shoot of Monday Night Raw, setting up all the feuds and plot lines for the next round of touring shows and pay-per-views. Retired wrestler Marc Mero (“Johnny B. Badd” and other handles) likened the process to “playing the Super Bowl one day and turning around and playing the first game of the next season the very next day.”
For reasons explained throughout the history of this blog, pro wrestlers – unlike the pro football players now bargaining their way out of a management lockout – are not unionized. Wrestlers die young at impossible rates, have no employer-supplied vacation or health care or pension benefits, and earn seriously good money pretty much only during the periods, usually fleeting, when they’re fortunate enough to secure top spots with the company commanding near-monopoly power: World Wrestling Entertainment.
WWE and its medical director, Dr. Joseph Maroon (who quadruples as a National Football League concussion consultant, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center research middle man, and supplement huckster), have occupational safety standards, which are followed in the breach, and sometimes even in the observance.
For example, chair shots to the head are banned from the script – except when they’re required. I’d advise readers to ask former WWE performer Lance Cade about all this, but you can’t. Cade died last year, of “heart failure,” at 29 – two years after Shawn Michaels bashed him on the skull with a chair on Raw, which in turn was a year after chair shots to the head were supposedly banned.
And oh yes, don’t miss this year’s WWE Hall of Fame ceremony the night before WrestleMania. The lead inductee? Shawn Michaels.
The question is: If wrestlers aren’t going to organize, then what is an individual wrestler to do? If you love the business and want to succeed at it and maybe even improve it, are there any options to resigning yourself to a short and maximally painful life as a billion-dollar corporation’s human cannon fodder?
One of the answers to that question is in the fallout of ex-WWE chief executive Linda McMahon’s $50 million unsuccessful “self-financed” U.S. Senate campaign last year: an ongoing audit of the Stamford-based company, by the Connecticut Department of Labor, of its alleged abuse of the “independent contractor” classification for its wrestlers. In tomorrow’s installment, I’ll guide interested wrestlers on how to submit tips to Connecticut Labor, either openly or discreetly.
Today let’s talk about a resource that so far is untapped: the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
In 2003, OSHA issued and published a fence-straddling “interpretation letter” on the independent contractor question. An insurer representing professional sports organizations had asked OSHA to help resolve a dispute over their legal injury and illness reporting requirements.
Without answering the question, the OSHA letter makes extended references to case law defining independent contractors, concluding with the so-called “common law test”:
the degree of skill required by the hired party; whether the hired or hiring party supplies the tools or equipment; the location of the work; the duration of the relationship between the parties; whether the hiring party has discretion to assign additional work to the hired party; the extent of the hired party’s discretion over when and how long to work; the method of payment; the hired party’s role in hiring and paying assistants; whether the work is part of the regular business of the hiring party; whether the hired party is in business; the provision of employee benefits; and the tax treatment of the hired party.
Since the law with respect to wrestling – a sports-tinged entertainment – is disputed and unsettled, it makes sense to direct complaints about workplace safety to OSHA. Full information on how to do so can be viewed at http://osha.gov/as/opa/worker/complain.html. The agency notes, “OSHA will keep your information confidential. We can help.” All the means of contact are listed at http://osha.gov/html/Feed_Back.html.
The federal government also has what is known as a “Whistleblower Protection Program.” Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act “prohibits any person from discharging or in any manner retaliating against any employee because the employee has exercised rights under the Act. These rights include complaining to OSHA and seeking an OSHA inspection, participating in an OSHA inspection, and participating or testifying in any proceeding related to an OSHA inspection.” See http://www.whistleblowers.gov/index.html.
Tomorrow: Guide for sending tips to the Connecticut Department of Labor