A Wrestling Union: Is it possible?

So we were hit with the shocking news that Zelina Vega was released from the WWE. That news was preceded by a tweet from her that she supported unionization. So of course twitter was lit up with a lot of people jumping from A to Z and concluding that she got released because of the tweet, which is just galaxy brain logic considering that her tweet would have to have been seen by management, a decision made, paperwork filed, the media department notified, and the statement published all in 10 minutes. Yeah, that’s likely not a thing that happened.

Vega (real name Thea Trinidad) had been in opposition to WWE’s recent crackdown on wrestlers use of third party platforms like Twitch. It’s been suspected that the company was creating its own Twitch setup and didn’t want the wrestlers operating outside of that, and that looks to be coming true. It’s been a bone of contention with the wrestlers who’d built a platform of their own there but to date no one had gone any further than complaining on social media. Thea deserves props for putting her money where her mouth is and walking. So now we move to the issue of unionization, and how it can make things better for all in the business. There’s some very vocal support for it on Twitter but there are some questions to answer when it comes to making it happen in the real world.

The previous attempts have failed badly. Jesse Ventura famously blamed Hulk Hogan for torpedoing it back in the 80s. There was an attempt to get in SAG that did not come through. As easy as it is to pile on Hogan for anything in 2020 to blame him alone for 35 years of little to no action there, because of what he did in one of what where still several companies operating back then, is a bit of a reach. The labor movement, whatever one there is in wrestling is going to need to do more than say Hogan killed it and that was it. They gotta figure some things out like:

How would it work?

Question number one is the most difficult to answer. First up it has to be the whole business, not just in WWE. But going by some of y’alls tweets, that’s the only place you think it needs to be. What about the indie guys who drive across country for not a lot of money, sometimes none? Hell it’s more important to protect them from getting trapped in ‘exposure’ bookings than it is for WWE wrestlers to be able to stay on Twitch. Isn’t it? And the ones who work in AEW, ROH, Impact, and MLW are all subject to different kinds of restrictions as well. For all the open door talk you let Sammy Guevara (AEW) or Dalton Castle (ROH) ask if they can do a one shot on Raw or Smackdown and see what kind of answer their respective management gives them.

Let’s not pretend that a union would be welcome anywhere outside WWE, either. Cody said very explicitly that he thought a union would kill the business, and the Khan family that owns AEW is majorly anti-union. I sincerely doubt that Sinclair Broadcasting who owns ROH would welcome one, either. But that’s not all; the very structure of a union that covers the entire business needs to be hammered out.

Most important is who would run it? Who’s in charge plays a major role in how friendly or hostile they are with management, and which situations get prioritized. A union run by WWE wrestlers is going to move much differently than one run by AEW guys or indie guys. Just ask the players in teams sports about the difference between big names and smaller when it comes to labor. All that plus a million other things that I haven’t thought of need to be addressed along the way. And while I think it’s worth it to try, it ultimately is not my call. Which brings me to my next question.

What would they fight for?

In WWE the third party interaction issue is really hot on Twitter but in reality we’re talking maybe 20 people out of well over 100 wrestlers who were on Twitch. Do you really think the other 90 are going to go on strike so that 20 people can keep doing it? Would you? As someone who is in a union I can tell you something that specific to a few people that’s a no go. What about something like paying their travel expenses? Well, we don’t know what they’re writing off on their taxes from that and how they make out from it. It is very possible that the write off is a better move than the company paying. Same applies to health insurance where paying out of pocket is often going to be better than a high premium/high deductible policy. Unless they show us their finances we really have no idea how these things work out for them at the highest levels in the major companies. Same goes for the independent contractor label. It sounds bad on Twitter but there are advantages to being one in their line of work so we don’t know what’s best for them. Way too many people speaking on it have a Wikipedia amount of knowledge on it, including Andrew Yang. All those things, were they put to vote in a hypothetical union may not even get voted for by the members themselves.

There are also specific issues that exist working for different companies or working as an indie. Some places it’s getting paid at all, some places it’s how much you can get paid, etc. And different people in the same companies have different concerns. To the majority of the WWE wrestlers Twitch isn’t an issue. Maybe they’re upset for their friends but are they going to go on strike over it? Are they willing to quit over it, or not sign/re-sign when an offer is made? Bruno Sammartino was known for making sure the guys who worked the shows he was booked on got more money because the gate was bigger. Who’s willing to do that kind of thing in 2020? Which brings me to my next question….

Do they even want one?

Yes, Vega tweeted that she was in favor of it and Paige has said the same. But other than that it’s been limited to guys on the fringe like David Starr (who we found out is a major creep so he may have had ulterior motives). The reality is that guys and gals who are in high positions in WWE or AEW, and even Impact or ROH, do well enough for themselves that being asked to join the effort would be met with a big fat no. Without the big names it’s not happening, and right now the big names are either doing too well for themselves or are part of management like in AEW so it’s already a tall order. When the NBA made major concessions to players in the 80s Isaiah Thomas was head of the union. Is there an equivalent level guy or gal in the wrestling business willing to be in that role?

Then there’s the issue of personal sacrifice. I’ve mentioned striking before. The baseball players were willing to let the World Series get canceled to get what they wanted. Curt Flood sacrificed the prime of his career to challenge the reserve clause and bring free agency to that sport; who’s willing to do that in wrestling? Because that’s where this all leads. Or what about political sacrifice? Wrestling is still dominated by white men who primarily vote for politicians who are less labor friendly. How many of those guys are willing to actually vote differently than they have been to get people in office to support their stances?

The Big Picture

Yes I think they should unionize. Yes I think they can improve their situations by doing so. But that’s a huge fight that is going to require some people to sacrifice their careers or at least the best years of their careers. If you want to see all the wrestling companies unite then fighting unionization will bring that real fast, and those of us who think they’re scoring ethical or moral points choosing one company over another will find out fast and hard just how wrong they are.

Ultimately the workers have to be willing to deny their labor to the companies, from WWE on down to the indie level, to get what they want. And that’s going to require them to come together and decide on some common goals to pursue, goals which may be different from the ones we see in our twitter timeliness. But it’s up to them to do it. We can support their efforts, but if they ultimately choose to take the road of complaining on the internet and nothing else then it is what it is. It’s their life, their career, and their call.

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