December 31, 2016
Two movements seeking to organize fighters launched this year as the discontent over pay and benefits grew. Whether or not either one will be successful is yet to be determined.
In addition to the PFA and MMAAA which announced their intent to organize UFC fighters. The Professional Fighters Association, led by Jeff Borris, seeks to organize UFC fighters to establish a union and a fighters’ association to collectively bargain with the UFC. Borris, a baseball agent, made the announcement in August. However, the PFA has experienced troubles in just 4 months of attempting to reach out to fighters. Its labor lawyer, Lucas Middlebrook and one of its core supporters, UFC fighter Leslie Smith left PFA due to disclosures made about a fighter board that was released in an MMA Junkie article. Smith believed those names were confidential. Borris denies that he leaked the names.
Notably, a press release sent out on Friday by PFA noted that it would cease efforts if it was unable to obtain the requisite number of fighter signatures by April 2nd.
On November 30th, MMAAA announced its intent to organize fighters behind former Bellator head Bjorn Rebney. The press conference included Georges St. Pierre, Tim Kennedy, Donald Cerrone, Cain Velasquez and T.J. Dillashaw. The fighter presence gave credibility to the organization and they indicated that they would actively recruit more fighters to join. Rebney indicated that they would intend to collectively bargain on behalf of the UFC fighters. Curiously, he stated that MMAAA would focus on an association rather than a union. There were no specifics given on how they would achieve its goals.
Of course, Rebney’s involvement did not sit well with many. Fighters and managers spoke out about him and questioned whether he was the right person to be lending advice.
A week later, lawyers on behalf of the former UFC fighters in the antitrust lawsuit in Nevada sent a “cease and desist” letter to Rebney and MMAAA stating that they stop their attempt to organize fighters by December 9th. No word on whether the parties have settled or legal action is pending. The letter indicated that Rebney met with the lawyers on behalf of the plaintiffs at CAA offices in New York to discuss working together. However, Rebney and his attorneys wanted to share in any recovery for use to repay investors and fund MMAAA. They also wanted to participate in any settlement negotiations with the UFC.
MMAAA denied the allegations set forth in the letter and stating that the lawyers in the antitrust lawsuit were just interested in attorney fees and not the long term benefits of the fighters.
Notably, MMAFA, a long-time organization working for better conditions for fighters, have supported the litigation against the UFC.
Will there be any chance that there will be a collective effort for MMA fighters to organize? At this point, it’s more likely that we’ll see a lawsuit between the class action plaintiffs’ attorneys and Rebney’s MMAAA before we see an organized effort by fighter to collectively bargain with the UFC or any organization.
16 for 16
5. UFC 200
14. Bellator 149
15. CM Punk debuts
December 11, 2016
With an ultimatum made by plaintiffs’ attorneys on behalf of the fighters suing Zuffa to the MMAAA, Dana White appears to be the winner at this point.
In an interview with TSN, White finds the current state of organizing fighters hilarious. He has specifically called out Bjorn Rebney, the former Bellator head. On the UFC Unfiltered podcast, he referred to him as “Bjork.”
Last week, the MMAAA was unveiled with Rebney as an unpaid strategic adviser according to the organization. This week, plaintiffs’ attorneys in the Le, et al. v. Zuffa, LLC, et al. sent a “cease and desist” letter to Rebney on behalf of MMAAA advising them that they were the court appointed representative of the class of fighters that Rebney’s group is seeking. Moreover, it was revealed in the letter signed by Eric Cramer, that Rebney met with the plaintiffs’ attorneys at CAA offices in New York. The meeting was to determine whether the two sides would come together. However, according to Cramer, Rebney wanted input as well as a portion of costs related to his fees associated with putting together what was to become MMAAA. Of course, MMAAA denies this.
White has called Rebney a “bottom-feeder” stating that he is out to make money implying that he does not have the interests of fighters in mind.
With the PFA, MMAAA and MMAFA seeking to advocate for the rights of fighters but competing with each other at the same time, White has to find it amusing. While each of these groups are seeking to bargain with the UFC for better pay, pensions and other interests, they need a unified front of fighters. But, with competing interests on the fighter side, the UFC has no obligation to negotiate with any of these groups. Aside from the lawsuit, which UFC lawyers are dealing with, the UFC will likely just wait and see if there is any need to address any of these groups.
November 29, 2016
Leslie Smith has written an open letter in which she states she is no longer supporting the Professional Fighters Association. Per MMA Fighting, labor lawyer Lucas Middlebrook is also severing ties with the organization he helped found with agent Jeff Borris.
The information of a possible board of fighters was leaked to the media which appears to be the reason for the parting of ways. Eleven names of current UFC fighters were revealed.
Smith stated that she helped compile a list of potential fighters to target for the board. The list, according to Smith, was to be confidential but the names as well as other information about the PFA appeared in an MMA Junkie article. She was also upset at the fact that the PFA intended to set up an agent advisory board in addition to the fighter board.
Smith wrote a letter about the situation in which she proposes the next steps in organizing MMA fighters.
Middlebrook left for the same disclosures made. Borris does not know how the leak of information happened.
Altruism or naivete on the part of Smith? Smith is passionate about organizing fighters but it appears that there was a misunderstanding regarding her role with PFA. Whether or not there was an understanding about the confidentiality of the information passed on by Smith is a question that someone at the PFA could answer. Obviously, the Junkie article revealed a lot about PFA’s goals as well as the potential for a board. This might be seen as showing its hand too early. It also might be a way to gain some PR for the organization at a time when it needed to gain traction with fighters. The concern about disclosing names for a board is that it might cause discord between the fighters and the UFC. Middlebrook leaving PFA also reflects a lack of cohesion in the organization less than 3 months into its venture. With the anticipated announcement of another attempt to organize fighters coming up on Wednesday, PFA may lose steam even before it begins.
November 8, 2016
MMA Junkie reports that the Professional Fighters Association (PFA) have set hard numbers and 10 goals to its vision of creating a union for the UFC contracted fighters. Among the 10 goals is the step-up in pay with fighters making a minimum of $25,000 to show and $25,000 to win.
Lower-tier fighters in the UFC receive between $8,000 to $12,000 to show and the same for winning. In Bellator, that amount is lower.
In addition, PFA would push for comprehensive health insurance for a fighter and his or her family. The UFC does provide accident insurance that come with high deductibles. However, these coverages do not cover basic health coverage and coverage that would extend to their immediate family.
Also, the PFA would push for an experience-based pension system which would start at $75,000 a year with 20 fights in the UFC and could up to $150,000 with 30 fights in the company. The pension would start at age 65 and be paid for life.
The association’s goals are outlined in the Junkie article but the biggest goal of increasing fighter pay has been something that fighters have wanted for years. The increase would cut into the company revenues although it has been receiving much more in a revenue split as opposed to leagues that collectively bargain. Other issues like health insurance and pensions would make provide general health and welfare benefits to the fighters; something that has not happened in this sport. Outlining these objectives are of importance for fighters that are not sure about signing on for PFA to bargain on their behalf. If the PFA can obtain the requisite number of fighter signatures to hold an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If they receive a majority vote in favor of a union, the PFA could collectively bargain with the UFC. Are these objectives attainable or just aspirations?