On a recent episode of The Wrestling Inc. Daily, Wrestling Inc. Managing Editor Nick Hausman sat down with top labor lawyer Lucas Middlebrook. Middlebrook has represented many groups from airlines workers to NBA and MLS referees to former UFC fighter Leslie Smith, who was on the podcast recently to talk about her organizing efforts to form a pro fighters association. Middlebrook discussed more of his background on the podcast.
“The firm that I’m a partner with now, I originally started working for while I was in law school, and that was one of the main focuses of that firm’s practice was labor law and to most extent labor law on the union side of things,” Middlebrook explained. “And so I interned with that firm for a few years in law school, and then I was hired on full-time right out of law school and have not moved since.
“And that was around 2005 when I graduated law school, and this is just always what I’ve done, but it’s also something that I’m very passionate about. I had two grandfathers that were both union workers. One in the airline industry and then one who was actually a Teamster driving cement mixer trucks. They were always good hard-working union men, and it’s just something that I really believe in that unions can lift up the workers and help balance the differences in bargaining power that without a union, it can be quite troubling for employees.”
Forbes’ Alfred Konuwa was on the Daily recently where he predicted that NBCU would attempt to buy WWE in 2024. Hausman asked Middlebrook how a potential wrestlers’ union may or may not be affected if NBCU does in fact buy WWE.
“If they’re bought out by a bigger, corporate parent or if there’s some sort of a merger, let’s just say if you unionize prior to that, then the unionization follows you,” Middlebrook noted. “Because if the law was otherwise, then the moment employees unionize, they (the company) could simply shut down that one, create a new corporate entity and move everything over, and there are instances in case law addressing that. The unionization, if you were certified or authorized prior to any type of corporate transaction merger, it follows the merger.”
In his closing words, Middlebrook expressed the importance of education. He encouraged anyone interested in organizing to understand the benefits and the roadblocks they might come across. He also noted that Congress has now reintroduced the Protecting The Right To Organize (PRO) Act, which would be beneficial towards union organizing efforts.
“If people are truly interested in organizing, there’s always a fear that comes with that,” Middlebrook pointed out. “So that’s not unique to the UFC, or the WWE or any group. It could be Bob’s Vacuum Factory. There’s going to be that sense of fear. Just understand that the law does protect you against that retaliation. It is illegal. There is a process by which you would have to undergo if it happened obviously, a legal process, but it is illegal, and that the key to any successful organizing drive is education. It’s education.
“People really need to understand what it means to be unionized and what type of protections under the law and your collective bargaining agreement, once you get one, that could be beneficial to you. What I’ve found helping groups organize and talking to people is that there’s a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what it actually means and what type of leverage you would have as a group after you unionize. And so it’s just important that people are interested to either try to educate yourself or to find someone like a Leslie Smith who would be willing to talk to you, who went through it herself and who is actually [going for] her bachelor’s degree in labor relations at Rutgers.
“She’s a wealth of knowledge, a non-attorney wealth of knowledge and someone who is very passionate about it as well, and so education is the key. And then the last thing I’ll point out again is that there was a new law introduced into Congress called the PRO or Protecting The Right To Organize [Act], which if passed and that could be many months or years away, it would transform the NLRA in a very union friendly manner including changing the test for independent contractor to one more similar to California’s which is called the ABC test which is way more employee-friendly and militates in favor of a finding of employee status.”
You can follow Lucas on Twitter @lkmiddleb. You can find the full audio and video from Lucas’ interview embedded below.