Tuesday, May 31, 2011

WWE’s New Health Insurance Mandate For Its ‘Contract’ Wrestlers Seems Politically Tone-Deaf

[posted 5/19/11 to htthttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifp://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com]hhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifthttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.giftp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Mike Johnson of Pro Wrestling Insider is reporting that World Wrestling Entertainment (or, excuse me, The New WWE) has started requiring its wrestlers to carry their own health insurance. See “Big, Big Change to WWE Contracts,” http://www.pwinsider.com/article/58111/big-big-change-to-wwe-contracts.html?p=1.

Through other sources, I have confirmed that Johnson’s scoop is accurate. The questions are “why?” and, perhaps especially, “why now?”

By coincidence, this news leaks out just as the leading company in the cousin mixed martial arts industry, Ultimate Fighting Championship, has announced innovative and comprehensive health insurance coverage for all its fighters.

WWE clings to a legalistic fiction that its “talents” are all independent contractors rather than employees – an assertion now under investigation by the Connecticut Labor Department. So not only does the company look very bad in comparison to UFC; WWE also is giving the finger to those who maintain that it is their responsibility to take care of the people whose daily sweat of the brow builds this global, billion-dollar brand. Effectively, Vince McMahon and his once-and-future-Senate-candidate wife Linda are saying, “We agree that the work we are assigning cannot be performed unless there is a guarantee that the substantial long-term, as well as short-term, medical bills will be paid. Now, Punkilious Preposterous, please produce the documentation that you have someone who will pay them – in addition to bringing your own tights and tan-spray to the next TV taping.”

My guess – and it’s only that – is that this corporate decision had nothing to do with the political ramifications and was a bottom-line call by Stamford bean-counters. WWE already “generously” pays medical bills for confirmed WWE ring injuries and “magnanimously” underwrites drug rehab for all current and former talent. The new health insurance mandate for its “contractors” seems designed to shift some of that burden. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter is the best at acquiring and crunching the numbers related to these sorts of questions, and I look forward to his analysis.

Irv Muchnick

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