Welcome to a special Labor Day edition of the Wrath of Tito. Today, we'll finally do the column I've wanted to write. Should the WWE wrestlers form a union? It's a controversial subject that I figure I can touch upon with economic analysis for the first time ever seen on pro wrestling columns. It's Labor Day too, which is a literal celebration for working man in the United States. This day was invented as a celebration of worker rights and shortening the workday. Part of Labor Day was created in association with the labor unions we still see today, though they are dimininishing from the workplace.
First off, though, I want to send my condolences to any victims, or family members/friends of victims of the recent Hurricane Katrina catastrophy. My very best wishes go out to anyone around the Gulf Coast area on rescue and recover efforts. It feels somewhat bad to enjoy this nice Labor Day off, yet to have many people suffering or grieving down South.
On to the column.
Should the WWE wrestlers form a union?
Right now, wrestling is in a rare situation. Before, there was competition. Before the 1980's, there were territories fighting over the best talent to obtain larger drawing crowds for their areas. With the advent of cable television in the 1980's, Vince McMahon and the WWF caused the break up of territories and a rise of a major competition between AWA, NWA, and WWF. AWA quickly died while Ted Turner's money saved NWA from extinction. Turner renamed NWA to WCW, and WCW would eventually become a major challenger to the WWF in 1995 with Monday Nitro. The two would square off until in 2001 when AOL/Time Warner pulled the television plug on WCW to enable the WWE to buy them.
The point? The simple fact that when there's competition, wrestlers have a second or third (or more) options to wrestle. Now, the only guaranteed money is with the WWE (WWE acts as a monopsony, the only buyer in a labor market). NWA-TNA is still and upstart promotion. Guaranteed contracts are rare and there's no guarantee that the fed will still be around by next year. TNA just inked a deal with Spike TV, but that's for late Saturday night. You can just view TNN/Spike's relations with ECW on Friday nights to see how well the TNA deal might be. In addition, TNA isn't exactly winning over old fans or creating new ones with their Pay Per View or Fox Sports shows. They have a long ways to go before they can become a nice, secure place for wrestlers to go to earn a living.
With all of this being said, the WWE is the lone superpower in professional wrestling. They are the only promotion to be on in prime time. They pay in downside guarantees, and it's the most secure wrestling job out there right now. Otherwise, wrestlers have to pray that TNA does well or roll the dice with Independent payouts. Recently, though, independent payoffs have been lower since the overall demand for wrestling has diminished. Top name wrestlers who aren't in the WWE can no longer command the high pay demands they once had. Therefore, most wrestlers must flock to the WWE. But since the WWE is the lone superpower in the wrestling industry, they basically face the decreasing costs of a lost fanbase. When the ratings and houseshow attendance drops, the WWE no longer makes the money they once did during the roaring late 1990's or early 2000's. Profit is basically defined as total revenues (from ticket sales, advertisements, stocks, merchandise sales, autograph signings, or any other money generating avenue for the WWE) minus total costs (labor costs, production costs, rent, interest from loans, etc.).
Most often, to keep the profit margin high, labor costs appear to be the easiest to cut. As you can see here in the United States, when a major corporation sees lower quarterly earnings, what's the first cost they cut? Labor. Usually, thousands instantly lose their jobs, which is what we saw during 2000-2002 to help increase the unemployment rate as the booming late 1990's economy cooled. In addition, to increase the profit margin, many corporations have begun to ship jobs overseas, a decision that hits loyal labor union members hard. When employers cut labor, they usually micromanage and increase responsibilities of current workers. The Titan Towers, for instance, has many office employees working several different tasks due to the recent WWE job cuts. Also with the WWE labor cuts, it's enabled the WWE to cut wrestlers while promoting more Ohio Valley Wrestling performers at a lower wage rate.
But do the WWE workers HAVE to take this? In professional sports, they have labor unions that protect their players from various actions by the owners or the league. In Hollywood, there are guilds for writing, acting, directing, among other things. In other professions, labor unions are used to present a more secure workplaces so that employees don't have to find a new job often (searching for new jobs takes time and money). Right now, the WWE wrestlers are working year round, sometimes 7 days a week with more than 8 hours a day. The perform a task that is NOT healthy for the human body. While most are paid over $100,000, many have to pay for hotel rooms, food, rental cars, and that salary is also placing them into a higher tax bracket. Right now, there is no long term retirement plan for wrestlers. Wrestlers are insured only if they are currently employeed by the WWE. But as we saw with Andrew "Test" Martin, he was released just after he had recent neck surgery, and recently removed wrestlers from the WWE won't continue to receive healthcare benefits. It can be argued that wrestlers are overworked, working in unsafe conditions, and have no future earnings due to nothing of a retirement plan... This has prompted some discussion on a wrestler union, whether it's with the WWE or in general (like the actor's guild).
Wrestlers like Roddy Piper and even Hulk Hogan have discussed the issue of wrestler unions. Piper, especially, as he is quoted as saying in his book "while wrestling today is a huge moneymaking business, I believe many things haven't changed in the industry, and wrestlers are still being used and exploited" (Piper/Picarello, pg. 236, 2002). Piper was actually employed in the WWE during 2003 but was quickly released when his opinion about promotions exploiting wrestlers aired on "Real Sports" on HBO. Hogan's position on unions for wrestlers have changed, based on how much money he makes during a certain period of time. Usually, the drumbeat for wrestler unions gets louder when wrestling's popularity and drawing power diminishes. For the rest of this column, we'll discuss the need for a union in the WWE, the benefits, the costs, among many other things.
I. The Need for Unions
Unions rose in the United States after the American Civil War. The Industrial Revolution started to really boom and cities began to grow. Before, we were a nation of farming and had businesses where workers knew their owners with a personal relationship. However, as the Industrial Revolution hit the United States, people began to move into cities and work in larger factories. Many factories were highly demanding on time or were unsafe. Workers began to lose that personal relationship with the owners as factories and businesses became more corporate. They were able to continually increase the scale of their operations and generate larger profits. Meanwhile, the workers were working longer hours and in very unsafe conditions (producing steel still isn't safe, but it's nothing like back in the late 1800's or early 1900's for that matter). But what could an individual worker do? They no longer knew their employer, for they were like a drop of water in a bucket. A corporation could care less about one worker out of a hundred or thousand, or so. But, if many individuals could band together and become one loud voice, then maybe changes at the workplace (shorter work day, safer working conditions, better pay).
That's EXACTLY what happened! Workers began to strike, and after a while, they became organized enough to have bargaining power with a corporation. As time passed by, as well as legislation to enable unions to collectively bargain, unions became stronger and stronger. The workday was then shortened to 8 hours a day for 5 days, salaries/benefits increased over time, and working conditions have become much safer. Union membership probably peaked around the late 1950's/early 1960's of around 25% of the labor force, but have diminished since to around 13% these days. The decrease can be explained to the lasting effect of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 that made it illegal for workplaces to require union membership just to work somewhere, various safe working conditions laws (OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration), losses in comparative advantages in longtime unionized industries (steel, tires, textiles), and sending jobs overseas. Union membership might take a hit after the recent AFL-CIO break up, too. Meanwhile, though, many unions remain strong. Baseball arguably has the strongest union around, while many government jobs have very strong unions protecting their industries (like teachers) (Miller, 2004).
Wrestling may fit in with the history's need for a union. Again, the WWE appears to be the lone provider of a nice, secure salary to be a professional wrestler. With that being said, the WWE wouldn't offer larger guarantees in the absence of competition, and they can cut wrestlers at will without fear of them performing for strong competition. Let's look at each of the wrestler's possible needs for a Labor Union.
Piss poor retirement. Don't let the recent WWE "legends" thing fool you. Many of the legends that the WWE just recently signed under those contracts have had to scrape and claw their way through recent wrestling employment. The WWE has found a Hall of Fame to be profitable, for it sells DVD's, does well on television, and helps to boost autograph signing revenues. But let's say you're not a Roddy Piper, Iron Sheik, Paul Orndorf, or any other "hall of famer". Take a look around and see that many former WWE wrestlers are STILL wrestling independents at a later age. The likes of Jim Duggan or King Kong Bundy have to keep wrestling just to continually earn a living, and they are getting quite old these days. There is NO retirement system in the WWE, outside of social security. Maybe you could own WWE stock, but the price of a WWE share hasn't exactly blossomed since being placed on the market.
Unsafe working conditions. Wrestlers work most of the year. They are on the road, taping a show every Monday or Tuesday night. In addition, they have a big Pay Per View show to work and 3-5 houseshows to work. WWE wrestlers are expected to look great physically. What does that mean? After traveling all night to get to the next town, wrestlers must work out to keep in great physical condition. Then, they must to to the arena and wrestle all over again. The next day, it's the same routine. Between working out, traveling to the next city, and then wrestling, it's more than an 8 hour job. But wrestling is NO office job, as wrestlers put their bodies on the line within the confines of a ring. Each wrestler could tell you about the multiple injuries they've received or are working through. That's right, working through injuries. Wrestlers are in pain on daily basis and that could lead the usual dependence on pain pills, for instance. The physical look demands are bad as well. Usually, to look like a bodybuilder, wrestlers take very unsafe muscle enhancers. This has led to many deaths over the years, with multiple wrestlers dying of heart attacks before the age of 40 or 50! The current working environment could be argued to be one of the most unsafe EVER!
Lack of rights for wrestlers. The Dudley Boys are a fine example. WWE trademarked their name and gimmick, therefore, they can't use it anywhere else to make money. WWE wrestlers aren't allowed to use their name to make money for themselves unless the WWE gets a special cut from it. WWE discourages wrestlers from having webpages, for Matt Hardy was even fired for comments made on a webpage. WWE guys cannot speak to any form of media unless they receive WWE's approval. They could be fired if approval wasn't sought. Brock Lesnar, just to get out of his WWE contract and try another profession, was forced to sign a large no-compete clause that disables him from performing in many non-wrestling avenues.
Low wage rate for wrestlers. Comparing wages of midcarders now compared to when WCW was around, WWE wrestlers are getting the shaft. With no competition, a potential superstar can no longer command a good salary. New guys like Brock Lesnar, Shelton Benjamin, and Kurt Angles, with incredible pedigrees, could no longer command the high incoming salaries without competition. Wrestlers with deals coming up can no longer command bargaining power. Chyna, for instance, left the WWE when she was unable to receive an increase in her salary. Granted, she had several factors against her, but she was receiving a lower salary offer once WCW was dead and gone. Wrestlers aren't getting raises, folks. They can no longer make huge bank as Triple H did in early 1999 when WCW began calling him when his contract was about to be up. Even Hulk Hogan can't demand a higher paycheck from the WWE, which was the basis of him leaving in both 2002 and 2003, causing Hogan to never appear until 2005 when the Hall of Fame idea brought him back one last time. New talents entering Ohio Valley Wrestling are signing very lowball developmental contracts, as compared to those of a few years ago. Again, no competition, lower salary offers are given to a job where bodies are put on the line. And note that $100,000 sounds nice to anyone, but to a job with a very short shelf life? A job where you hotel, car rental, and food expenses add up, in addition to a higher tax bracket?
Share in the profits! WWE wrestlers can argue that since they are putting their bodies on the line, they should get a larger chunk of the overall profits. Many would argue "how much money should the main stockholders and WWE owners (McMahons) receive?". Wrestling, like many other professional sports, is quite dangerous and it could be heavily argued that wrestlers are highly underpaid for the punishment they put on their bodies. Especially in 2000, when the WWE profitability was at an alltime high, insomuch that the WWE was able to start a freakin' professional football league and not lose its ass after that league failed!
But, unlike many other industries, wrestling is a unique business...
II. Wrestling May be too Unique to Have Unions.
Wrestling is a lot different from other industries. There seems to be an odd distribution of wrestlers who are more productive in terms of drawing fans than others, as well as being a business that relies on the creative aspect to make or break a wrestler. Let's evaluate the oddities of the wrestling business that may make it impossible to have a wrestler union.
Bookers: Make or Break Wrestlers! Let's face it, wrestlers job security relies on the creative team. If the creative team likes you or has great ideas for your character, you would tend to have great job security in the business. However, if you are disliked by certain members of the creative team or just bad ideas are coming your way (Misfits in Action, that 70's Guy, the Boogeyman), you won't have job security in the industry. A big reason for Chris Benoit wanting out of WCW in early 2000 was because of Kevin Sullivan becoming headbooker. Benoit took Sullivan's wife, so what are the chances of Sullivan using Chris Benoit in a creative way? Look at Charlie Haas. He was very promising as a member of Team Angle and World's Greatest Tag Team, but once Benjamin was moved to RAW, Haas's character went no where, thanks to the creative team. He was eventually released. Take Steve Austin... He came in as the Ringmaster. That gimmick bombed quickly. Then, he came up with "Stone Cold" and saved himself. Mike Awesome was a force in ECW, but a nobody in WCW. How can you be a threat when you're the Fat Chick Thriller, 70's Guy, or a Team Canada member? A wrestler's usefulness is based on how a booker perceives the wrestler. A wrestler can put on fantastic match after fantastic match, but if a booker wants to bury a wrestler, they can quickly do it in the storylines. It's hard to tell how productive a wrestler could truly be when a booker might be in the way of achieving true potential. And if a wrestler can't draw, why protect him from a union?
Drawing distribution. In wrestling, there are guys at the top making lots of money, and the rest making decent money. How can you form a union with such uneven distribution of salaries? Despite being unproductive these days, the veteran Undertaker will command a larger salary than a more popular wrestler these days, like John Cena, for instance. Guys like Triple H, Rock, Steve Austin, Undertaker, and probably Kurt Angle have stellar salaries, while it trickles down for the rest of the salaries. How can you start a union for "one voice collectively" when you have guys at the top making nice money without the need of a union?
Popularity. Wrestlers make more when there's a higher demand for wrestling. During the late 1980's and late 1990's, wrestling popularity was at an all time high. When top draws like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Steve Austin, the Rock, New World Order, and many others were drawing fans to shows, the rest of the performers made out. Part of wrestler agreements come from the event gates. If arena events draw well, then everybody gets a little extra on their paycheck. Many wrestlers highly respect Hogan because his popularity helped to boom the houseshow business in the late 1980's for nice paydays. If wrestling is popular, more fans will attend shows and pay wrestlers nicely. If wrestling isn't as popular, houseshow gates will become very embarrassing. Right now, many WWE wrestlers are pissed off because houseshow gates are low due to weak attendance. They are only receiving their low downside guarantee instead of the guarantee plus a nice bonus check from the gates.
Licensing. When WWE merchandise sells well, wrestlers benefit. This goes hand in hand with the wrestler popularity thing. During the late 1990's and early 2000's, the WWE moved all kinds of t-shirts, action figures, among other things. Look at the Hardy and Dudley Boys, for example. Their shirts sold like crazy and those midcarders definitely profited well off of those merchandise sales during the booming period. During down periods, wrestler merchandise doesn't well and wrestlers can't make too much in royalties when stuff is on clearance.
WWE's way of earning revenues. WWE earns money on a weekly basis. If ratings are up, more advertising dollars are to be had. If houseshows are up, more gate revenues are received, as well as boosted merchandise sales. If buyrates are up, yet another stream of revenues to collect. If the WWE is popular during a week, the stock's value increases. Therefore, if the WWE is doing well during a certain week or shorter period of time, then wrestlers will be paid quite well in addition to their downside guarantees. If everything drops during a short period of time, so do the bonuses or salaries paid to wrestlers. The WWE is very inconsistent in terms of popularity. Through 1990, the WWE was heavily popular. However, from 1991 to 1997, they weren't. From 1998-2001, nice bank was made and wrestlers were well paid. From 2002 until now, business is down and wrestlers aren't being paid as high based on lower revenues coming in.
Of course, there are many benefits to forming a union... but there are also some major costs!
III. The Benefits of a Wrestling Union
If the WWE formed a union, this is what they might see...
Collective bargaining against the WWE! Wrestlers would now, as a whole, be able to threaten strikes against Vince McMahon and company if they didn't increase their salaries, include benefits, or give them a larger chunk on royalty/event payments. Instead of the ONE wrestling employer dominating the market, cutting wrestlers at will and not increasing salaries (acting as a true monopsonist), he would have to answer to a union. You would definitely see wrestler retirement systems set up, larger downside guarantees, and larger cuts into merchandise, event payouts, among other things.
Protecting wrestlers. Matt Hardy might have been protected from his WWE release if a union was in place. They'd file a grievance against the WWE and maybe an independent arbitrator would argue that Hardy was terminated unfairly. Wrestlers wouldn't be able to get fired while injured, such as Test recently, Steve Austin while he was in WCW with a bicep tear, among many other cases. Maybe even a wrestling union could fight against biased bookers who are booking wrestlers unfairly? They could suggest that so-and-so on the booking team is treating a certain wrestler unfairly due to discrimination, past hatred, or whatever else and is NOT doing what's in the best interest for the wrestler financially.
Improved working conditions. A union could force the WWE into making wrestlers work less hours, while protecting wrestlers' health. Maybe just perform 3-4 days a week, ONLY? Maybe grant more wrestler vacations? Maybe lessen the burden of a traveling schedule? Maybe not force wrestler to keep performing while being injured? Wrestlers could now have an easier schedule to manage to enable them to start families and actually see them. Maybe the lighter work schedule and lesser physical demands could stop wrestlers from dying so young from potential drug abuse? Maybe wrestlers could retire without dehabilitating or reoccurring injuries for the rest of their lives? Maybe make the ring more safe for wrestlers? Another aspect would be to give wrestlers the option to work a dangerous match, or not? Cage, ladder, and no-disqualification matches tend to injure wrestlers in some way or form. If a union was present, a wrestler might not be forced to work a dangerous type of match?
A wrestler union might improve productivity? If wrestlers had more job security, better benefits, and better pay, they might work harder at their workplace? When someone is happier at their present workplace, they tend to work a bit harder. When a wrestler is happier in the WWE, then maybe they'd wrestle with an extra "kick in their step" instead of a more recent "going through the motions" look that's based on low downside guarantees with zero benefits and no job security. If you're happier at your job, you'll care to do well at it. Simple as that(Miller, 2004).
Redistribution of wealth. While many wrestlers are seeing jack and squat from the lower houseshows, the McMahons and shareholders are still profiting. It's argued that through collective bargaining, there would be a transfer of wealth from the owners/shareholders to the employees or wrestlers. This is a great "cost" as to why many people buying stocks avoid buying stocks that have unionized workers(Miller, 2004).
With every benefit, there is a cost....
IV. The Costs of a Wrestling Union (Miller, 2004)
This section will be using some economics that you might see in a Micro or labor economics course in college. For an everyday wrestling reader who won't be taking those courses, I'll try to put the analysis in the simplest terms. I'll be using a few graphs, while excluding some of the more complex graphs. Let's look at a general labor market:
From this first graph, we have a general labor market at equilibrium. On the vertical axis, I have the wage rate ($ something per hour), increasing down to up, while on the horizontal axis, I have "quantity of labor", amount of workers used or available, increasing left to right. The "D of L" line represents the demand of an employer to hire workers. As the wage is low, they tend to hire more workers. If they have to pay a higher wage, they'll hire less. A negative or inverse relationship, if you will. For "S of L", it represents the workers. It's a line with a positive relationship between wage and quantity of labor, for if you increase the wage at a workplace, more workers would be willing to work at that higher wage. Vice versa with a lower wage causing less workers to be willing to work at a certain wage. Where the supply and demand cross becomes an equilibrium, and a wage (w*) will be given to a certain quantity of labor (Q*) as the graph indicates.
What you were seeing is an unrestricted labor market. No unions, no minimum wages, no sort of intervention by any outside source! However, let's just say a union is formed and they collectively bargain for an increased wage rate:
Just making slight changes to the first graph, the union has pushed the wage up from w* to Wu. This causes a disequilibrium because it's not at the point where supply of labor and demand of labor meet. At Wu, where it strikes the demand of labor curve, an employer would demand "Qd", while when it strikes the supply of labor curve, the amount of workers willing to work at the higher wage would be "Qs". As you can see form the graph, it's clear that Qs is greater than Qd. In other words, the amount of workers willing to work at Wu is less than the amount of workers an employer is willing to hire or keep around at the higher wage Wu (same graph is used for minimum wage theory).
When a union pushes up the wages, an employer might tend to cut hours, lay off workers, or hire less. This could present a problem for any up and coming wrestler willing to enter the WWE labor market. But for the current WWE worker, an increase in unionized wages could potentially cause workers to wrestle at less shows, become layed off until their contract expires, or outright released (if allowed by a union). From our second graph, we saw a larger supply of workers but a smaller demand from an employer at the higher wage. Well, this causes a surplus of workers and this shortage would have to be fixed by rationing jobs among union members (an argument that says unions hurt productivity), but it could be fixed over time IF the demand by an employer for wrestlers increases and creates a new equilibrium of supply equals demand. In other words, a demand change could even out the gap created by a sudden hike in the wage rate by collective bargaining. Otherwise, this gap causes problems between employers and unions, and in other industries, many have sought other methods of eliminating union negotiations by shipping jobs overseas or simply hiring more non-unionized workers (i.e. breaking the union, which they can thanks to the Taft-Harley act of 1947, as described earlier!).
Another potential cost of a union would be keeping out other performers. Yes, closed shop unions are illegal, but the bargained wage increase by a union could keep new wrestlers out of the WWE labor market, as based on this graph:
In this graph, we can simultaneously see 2 different changes. Let's assume there are NO labor negotiations whatsoever and times are good for a wrestling federation. His or her demand to hire more wrestlers or workers actually increases, as you can see from "D of L 2". Where "D of L 2" meets with the supply of labor or "S of L" is your new equilibrium. As you can see from point (a), the wage is now higher than w*, the old equilibrium wage before the demand increase. In addition, moving UP the supply curve by an increased demand causes employers to now hire more wrestlers or workers, which you can see at point (c) that's above Q*. This comes from a scenario that doesn't have the presence of a labor union intervening.
However, let's assume that instead of relying on the demand for labor by an employer to increase to boost wages, the union collectively bargains for a higher wage quite often. That's indicated by the vertical "S of L 2" curve you see from the original equilibrium. The wage keeps going up, yet no demand increase to match it. Remember, an employer has a negative relationship between wages and workers they hire, so when the wage goes up, their demand wouldn't match it at first. With the vertical supply curve, you can see that moving up "S of L 2", there is ZERO change in the quantity of labor hired at those higher wages (Q*). This graph shows that despite the higher wages, no new workers or wrestlers are hired! What's even more telling is if an employer or promoter's demand for labor actually increases, it doesn't matter with the collective bargaining. At point (b), you can see that despite the increased demand and vertical supply curve crossing, we are still at Q* and are not hiring more workers or wrestlers!
In addition to these graphs, the WWE could potentially bolt the labor union and hire what non-union wrestlers at will, if they so choose, thanks again to Taft/Hartley Act of 1947. They could maybe import more foreign wrestlers. In addition, being the lone employer in a labor market (monopsony), I'm sure there would potentially be many wrestlers who are willing to NOT join a labor union in order to perform for the World Wrestling Entertainment!
V. Concluding Remarks
The ongoing question has been "should the WWE wrestlers form a union?". While I wish the absolute best for professional wrestlers, I'd suggest NO.
While it breaks my heart as a wrestling fan to see professional wrestlers falling apart when they are older, get fired over little things or creative issues, or literally have no rights against a tough promoter, I'd suggest that a labor union would do more harm than good. Why?
Wrestling is based on popularity. If wrestling's not popular, it won't make money. When wrestling is popular, the gates for events are larger, more merchandise sells, therefore, wrestlers will earn more income. A labor union could do some potential long term damage to the finances of a wrestling organization when wrestling isn't popular at the moment. WWE funds are too inconsistent, unlike the NFL, MLB, or NBA, which have revenues that increase from year to year... a much more larger need for a union to divide those increased revenues up.
Wrestling shelf life is very short. The human body can only take so much punishment. Wrestlers don't last long, or at least they don't last long, health-wise, to perform on a regular basis. If I were someone entering professional wrestling, I would seek a college degree first! If you want to go for your dream of becoming a professional wrestler, I'd suggest obtaining a back-up plan. Not only is the WWE hard to get into (with many up and coming wrestlers living poor for years!), but there's no guarantee that you'll be like the Undertaker, who has been in the WWE for closing in on 15 years now, or Triple H, who has been in the WWE since 1995, a nice 10 year run. Just look at how many wrestlers have come and gone in the WWE from 10 years ago. 5 years ago. 3 years ago... And so on. If you make it through 5 years in the WWE, you're considered a "veteran". Careers in the WWE are short, just like they are in the NFL. The NFL has weak bargaining power compared to the NBA and MLB, two leagues with actual longevity of its members.
Too much trouble with the creative aspect. I really don't see how a union could protect its members from any creative team differences. How can you determine if it's the creative team burying a wrestler or if it's that wrestler not living up to his potential? It's really hard to account for the possible stupidity of a booking team member in comparison to a wrestler's overall potential to draw money and have a longterm career with the WWE.
Maybe a "wrestlers guild" could be better? Every actor in Hollywood must join the actor's guild. Instead of the WWE just having a union, wrestlers nationwide could have a union as a whole. This would make wrestling a craft and the potential for the guild to negotiate better wages for its members across the board, from WWE, to NWA-TNA, to Ring of Honor, to any independent promotion! Of course and again, you must take into account that wrestling thrives on popularity. If a union pushes up wages in a lesser promotion, how could they make any money at all during a down period?
Maybe indicting WWE on labor laws could be better? If wrestlers could simply to go a governmental agency or a labor board and show proof of being overworked, then it could force regulations on the WWE to work wrestlers only 40 hours a week. The 40 hours would include traveling, training for the physical appearance, autograph signings, preparing for matches, and wrestling the matches. Yeah, it can be argued that at $100,000 per year, overtime might be expected. However, the overtime for these WWE wrestlers is physically taxing! Wrestling is a rough profession to stick with and being overworked leads to many potential problems (drugs, for instance). Wrestlers could show a labor board that being overworked and pressured to look a certain way has been extremely taxing on their bodies and minds? This could be more beneficial than a labor union formation?
OVERALL CONCLUSION: I say "no" to labor unions in wrestling because I know the economic effects it may have, the conditions of the WWE or other wrestling organizations, popularity, but mostly for the short shelf life wrestlers have. If wrestling had some actual longevity for health and drawing power, then I could see a labor union formation actually working. But for a profession that's based on popularity and with a very short shelf life, I suggest no. It could do more harm than good, but only for the fact that wrestling does suffer from down periods. Looking at industries in the United States who are in down periods due to lost comparative advantages, environmental restrictions on output, or higher wages who coincidentally have unionized labor, you see more and more unemployment caused.
My advice would be for wrestlers to make the most out of their short time in the WWE. Use that popularity and name dropping power to work your way into other industries. Maybe take up acting or stunt work? Maybe start your own wrestling school, for many individuals who want to become wrestlers will see your name and flock to that school to be trained by so-and-so. Hell, maybe even start your own promotion? I'd advise every up and coming wrestler to get a college degree while training to be a wrestler. Maybe get some kind of business, communications, or television degree so that you could maybe stick with a wrestling company in a non-wrestling fashion. Otherwise, getting that degree will provide for a safety net for AFTER wrestling, as wrestling for 5 years in the WWE is something only luck will have. Wrestling is a short term career in what should be assumed as a profession with weak job security. Then again, if a union was in place, maybe the longevity could increase? There's a union in the NFL and player longevity is still short, so who knows?
I suggest "no" for unions, but I can clearly see the reasoning for many wrestlers wanting a union, especially as wrestlers retire and have no income or health insurance to show for it, as well as many wrestlers dying so young or are impaired by some injury. It's a good, healthy debate to have and I encourage any feedback that maybe be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, posted on my BLOG, or even posted in the Feedback section of LoPForums.com. Please be professional, if at all possible, in your responses. Thanks!
Appendix: Information Sources
Miller, R.L.(2004). Economics Today: the Micro View (12th Edition). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Piper, R.; Picarello, R. (2002). In the Pit with Piper: Roddy Gets Rowdy. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group.
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