Leslie Smith filed a complaint against the UFC in May, claiming that the UFC violated the National Labor Relations Act for Project Spearhead.
Project Spearhead was the campaign started with Smith — with attorney Lucas Middlebrook — to get 30 percent of the UFC roster to sign union authorization cards that would force the National Labor Relations Board to review whether or not the UFC’s classification of fighters as “independent contractors” (instead of employees) is valid to begin with.
Smith outlined some of her motivation in a recent interview with Chris Brooks (via Jacobin).
We will also win benefits we deserve and a grievance process, all of which I see as essential rights that fighters deserve. Almost all the fighters I have met have recurring health injuries. Many in the UFC take fights when injured, which means we aren’t fighting our best fights. We do this because we have to keep working so we can afford health care for ourselves and our families. So, having a chance to bargain for health care is going to be huge.
That aspect hits home for Smith, who publicly asked for financial help (which she eventually got) when she couldn’t afford dealing with a stomach tumor.
Smith’s grievances echo what fight wonks have been talking about for years: the shrewd endorsement deals that squeezed out individual sponsors, retirement plans, lack of fight activity, the trickle down effect (or lackthereof) of the WWE-IMG deal, or the infamous Nick Diaz clause; all work Bloody Elbow has exhaustively covered.
What sounded like the potential start of a promising project was dismissed last week (via MMA Junkie).
“The National Labor Relations Board dismissed her complaint against the UFC on Sept. 19, according to online records. Smith’s attorney, Lucas Middlebrook, has vowed to appeal the decision by an Oct. 3 deadline.”
The ruling that Smith wasn’t bought out of her contract due to retaliation allowed Zuffa legal wiggle room to avoid addressing the essence of the complaint; fighters as independent contractors versus employees. As a result, Project Spearhead itself looks like it’s in jeopardy.
It’s not all gumdrop smiles in the courtroom for Zuffa, who are currently embroiled in a class action antitrust lawsuit.