As discussed last month, the UFC’s decision accelerate and end their contractual relationship with Leslie Smith has opened a can of worms.
Smith is the interim president of Project Spearhead and was the most vocal active roster UFC fighter advocating for fighter organization at the time the promotion chose to part ways with her.
Smith has now followed through with her stated intention to pursue legal action against UFC parent company Zuffa and today filed an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the US National Labor Relations Board against the promotion.
In short Smith alleges that she, along with other UFC fighters, are actually employees improperly classified as independent contractors. Smith states that the UFC decided to cut her from the promotion due to her active efforts in organizing fighters into an association or union. The filing argues that
“There simply can be no dispute ZUFFA took adverse action against Ms. Smith….Zuffa committed an unfair labor practice and violated Sections 8(a)(1), 8(a)(3) and all other applicable Sections of the Act when it took adverse action(s) against Ms. Smith in response to her engagement in protected activity. Zuffa, through its unlawful actions against Ms. Smith, has further cultivated the climate of fear currently existent within its fighters employees as it relates to engagement in protected activity under NLRA. Leslie Smith was one of the only UFC fighters willing to openly exercise her rights to form, join or assist a union. 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. This message contravenes the very purpose of the NLRA and ZUFFA cannot be allowed to continue flouting the Act. No person or entity is above the law.”
The UFC have yet to formally respond to the filing. They will likely argue Smith is an independent contractor and that they simply chose not to renew her contract.
The legally interesting point is that the NLRB, however they rule on the merits of Smith’s allegations, will need to decide the fundamental question of whether UFC fighters are truly independent contractors or are they actually employees that are misclassified. If the latter Leslie Smith and Project Spearhead may gain significant ground in the effort to organize UFC fighters.