A labor lawyer has updated the progress on a potential MMA fighters union led by Bellator women's featherweight fighter Leslie Smith.
The lawyer Lucas Middlebrook spoke with Wrestling Inc's Nick Hausman to discuss unionization of professional fighting as well as give a background on his experience working with other sports leagues and their respective unions.
“I serve as counsel to the National Basketball Referees Association, which is the union that represents the NBA referees,” Middlebrook said. “My firm has been representing them for a little over ten years. I also represent the Professional Soccer Referees Association, or PSRA, which is the union that represents the Major League Soccer officials. That one is actually very interesting because in the 2012, 2013 time period, that group did not have a union, and they were treated as independent contractors. That group took it upon itself, they heard through the grapevine that we represented the NBA referees and reached out. I actually assisted with their organizing drive, and they went through a contested election at the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), they collected cards, they went through with an election, and they were certified as the representative in 2013. They are actually on their second collective bargaining agreement now. Their terms and conditions have ameliorated quite significantly since prior to being non-union.”
He continued on about the fighters he's represented in the past as well and how he met Smith.
“I also have represented some fighters in the UFC. I represented Nick Diaz in 2015. That was not with respect to union issues but instead I represented him in front of the Nevada Athletic Commission after Nick had tested positive for marijuana in his fight with Anderson Silva,” Middlebrook said. “From that representation, I got involved in an organizing drive of fighters at the UFC called the Professional Fighters Association, or PFA. That involved a baseball agent by the name of Scott Boras. That percolated along for a little while, and that’s where I met Leslie Smith, who was a former fighter in the UFC who then started her own drive in the UFC. I also represented Leslie when she filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board after she was let go for what we believe was her union activity at the UFC. I also represent a number of unions in the airline industry. The Southwest Airlines mechanics, the Southwest Airlines flight attendants, mechanics at Alaska Airlines, and some others as well.”
In 2018, Smith the former Octagon veteran who went 4-3 in her seven fights with the promotion, launched Project Spearhead in an effort to get UFC fighters to unionize together. Her case against the UFC though stalled with its progression through the legal process, which Middlebrook details and blames former general counsel of the NLRB Peter Robb for.
Robb has since been removed from his position and Middlebrook hopes with the change in administration and new President Joe Biden at the helm, that Smith's case might have a new life to continue the steps forward to an MMA fighters union.
“What happened was literally on the day Biden was inaugurated, the Biden Administration sent a letter to Peter Robb saying, ‘You have 24 hours to resign, or you’re going to be terminated',” Middlebrook said. “And he refused to resign, so they terminated him. So then what happened was his deputy attorney general took Robb’s position, and then that person received a similar piece of correspondence from the Biden Administration, which was, ‘You have 24 hours to resign.’ I’m not sure whether that person resigned or was fired, but essentially what they did was they named an Acting General Counsel because it is a senate confirmation position. So the Acting Attorney General used to be the regional director out of Chicago, which interestingly enough, was heavily involved in the decision-making process of the case if you’ll remember, when the Northwestern football players tried to unionize, which initially had favorable results for those football players but was eventually overturned by the entire NLRB. That individual is now the Acting Attorney General at the NLRB, and we just saw today that the White House has nominated Jennifer Abruzzo to fill that position permanently. She has worked in the NLRB previously, and I think her most recent position was counsel at the Communications Workers of America, which is a pretty sizable union in the country.”
Middlebrook gave one last update on what could be the next for him and Smith in proceeding forward.
“Leslie and I are currently in discussion over that issue, so I can’t really comment on our plans and our strategy related to that,” he said. “But I can leave you with this, Leslie and I are discussing our options.”