The case that could have decided whether MMA fighters can unionize may be over without a decision.
The National Labor Relations Board last month dismissed MMA fighter Leslie Smith’s unfair labor practices charge against the UFC, but did not decide whether she was an employee. That’s important because the UFC has classified fighters as independent contractors, and only employees can unionize.
As previously reported, Smith, who was leading a unionization effort for UFC fighters, filed an unfair labor practices charge against the UFC after the organization failed to re-sign her to a contract. In the charge, Smith alleged that the UFC violated federal law protecting employees who engage in union activity when it terminated her contract on April 20.
Lawyers thought the case could force a determination on whether all fighters were employees, which had the potential to affect all MMA fighters since there has never been a legal determination as to whether they are employees.
In this case, Dennis Walsh, the NLRB’s director for Region 4, decided last month that although there was “ample evidence” that Smith publicly engaged in efforts to unionize UFC fighters, there was “insufficient evidence” that the UFC’s decision not to renew her contract was based on her union activity.
“Rather, there is significant evidence suggesting that the breakdown in contract negotiations in April 2018 occurred for nondiscriminatory reasons related to her demands,” Walsh wrote. “Because I find no unlawful discrimination, I find it unnecessary to decide whether Smith is a statutory employee.”
Bill Gould, a former NLRB chairman who is now a Stanford Law School professor, said there have been cases where the board looks at issues without determining whether the person bringing the charge is an employee. “It’s unusual, but not unheard of,” Gould said.
The UFC declined to comment for this story. The UFC was represented in the case by multiple attorneys from the national law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius.
Smith, meanwhile, is appealing the case, said her attorney, Lucas Middlebrook, a partner with the White Plains, N.Y.-based firm of Seham Seham Meltz & Petersen. Among other things, Middlebrook said the NLRB mischaracterized the circumstances of Smith’s departure from the UFC in its decision.
Smith is interim president of Project Spearhead, which is still collecting unionization cards. Asked how the NLRB decision affects the unionization push, Middlebrook said, “It certainly doesn’t help it.”
■ WASSERMAN SIGNS JOSI: Wasserman, which launched an NHL player representation practice earlier this year, has added to it, signing Nashville Predators captain and defenseman Roman Josi. Agent Judd Moldaver will represent Josi. He was formerly represented by Maloney & Thompson Sports Management.
Josi has no current endorsements and Wasserman will be looking for deals in the tech and fashion space, among other categories. Josi was named one of “The 10 Best-Dressed Men of the Week” last week by GQ magazine.
■ WASSERMAN INKS MLB PLAYERS: Wasserman has signed two MLB All-Stars in recent months, Minnesota Twins pitcher José Berríos and Colorado Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu.
Berríos was formerly represented by MDR Sports Management and LeMahieu was formerly represented by Excel Sports Management. Nick Chanock is representing Berríos and Joel Wolfe is representing LeMahieu, who will be a free agent this offseason.
“We are hoping it is going to be far more robust than the free agent market was last year,” said Wolfe, who also represents St. Louis Cardinals pitchers Bud Norris and Tyson Ross, both of whom will be free agents after the World Series.