The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has flagged Leslie Smith’s case against the UFC as one that could need swift, injunctive relief, MMA Fighting has learned.
An NLRB regional director sent a letter to Smith’s attorney Lucas Middlebrook last week, asking him to be prepared to present his evidence against the UFC “as quickly as possible,” so the board can determine whether or not to seek an injunction in U.S. District Court, per the document obtained by MMA Fighting.
In order for the NLRB to seek a federal injunction against the UFC, Smith would have to show that the UFC’s actions had a “permanent effect” in a negative way against a unionization effort. Smith is the president of Project Spearhead, which is leading the charge to get UFC fighters to sign union authorization cards. She was, in her eyes, essentially bought out by the UFC last month prior to her initially scheduled fight at UFC Atlantic City.
Middlebrook, in his argument, would have to prove that the UFC parting ways with Smith caused a lasting “chill” in the organization effort that would need to be remedied rapidly. Potential examples, per the letter Middlebrook received, would be a drop off in authorization cards being signed by fighters since Smith’s departure, a decrease in attendance at union meetings and statements made by employees showing they “fear losing their jobs.”
The injunction in question would be under Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which authorizes the NLRB to seek a temporary injunction “against employers and unions in federal district courts to stop unfair labor practices while the case is being litigated before administrative law judges and the Board.”
Last year, the NLRB authorized its general counsel to submit a petition for 10(j) injunctive relief 30 times.
Middlebrook, a labor attorney who is a partner with the New York firm Seham, Seham, Meltz & Petersen, LLP, told MMA Fighting he plans on filing his evidence in the next few weeks. It’s unclear if a successful injunction would mean Smith would gain her roster spot in the UFC back.
Smith was supposed to fight Aspen Ladd at UFC Atlantic City last month on the last fight of her UFC contract. Ladd missed weight and, per commission contract, Smith would be paid in that situation even if she did not fight. Smith told the UFC she would fight Ladd if they extended her contract by two fights. Smith said the UFC refused that offer, paid her show money and win bonus and said it considered her contract fulfilled.
Because the UFC rarely doles out that amount of money for fighters who did not compete, and her standing as the No. 9-ranked fighter in the UFC’s official rankings, Smith believes the UFC let her walk due to her role as a leader in the organizing effort. She filed a charge with the NLRB on May 2.
“[UFC parent company] ZUFFA, with the termination of Ms. Smith, has delivered an unlawful message to the remainder of its fighter employees, which is: dare to form, join or assist a union and you too will accompany Ms. Smith not fighting in the UFC,” Middlebrook wrote in the charge.
The UFC has yet to publicly comment on the Smith matter, but ESPN reported last week that the promotion has a different version of events than Smith does.
Smith’s entire case against the UFC hinges on whether or not UFC fighters are legally employees or independent contractors. The UFC currently classifies fighters as independent contractors, but Smith and others feel they are employees for purposes of the NLRA, the federal law governing unionization.
Project Spearhead launched earlier this year as an effort to get fighters to sign union authorization cards to determine whether or not they were employees or contractors. If 30 percent or more of the UFC roster signs a card, the NLRB would make the employee vs. contractor determination.