WWE: AFL-CIO Slams Senate Campaign of Former CEO Linda McMahon

Stephen Sonneveld@@S_SonneveldCorrespondent IIISeptember 28, 2012

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 3:  WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and his wife Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., attend the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2008 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jeff Gentner/Getty Images)
Jeff Gentner/Getty Images

A mailer sent out on Sept 27 to 38,000 Connecticut voters has the AFL-CIO laying the smack down on U.S. Senate candidate and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon.

The “important union message” has the labor federation criticizing McMahon with allegations she “slammed her employees with layoffs, no health benefits and sexual exploitation."

It claims the Republican nominee “doesn't care about working people” and “can't explain her disturbing treatment” of WWE workers:

“She laid off 10% of her employees while taking millions of dollars' in tax credits, allowed her female employees to be subjected to sexual humiliation for cheap entertainment and doesn't even provide basic healthcare for her workers. McMahon's troubling past shows she doesn't care about Connecticut workers.”

Three bullets follow. The first:

“Layoffs and Tax Breaks: McMahon laid off 10% of her workforce at the WWE and then took advantage of millions of dollars worth of tax breaks. [Associated Press, 9/12/12; Hartford Courant, 10/1/10]”

The tax credits were part of a program through Connecticut's Department of Economic and Community Development to encourage and keep film and television production in state, and is similar to programs in other U.S. states, territories and Canadian provinces.

According to the Courant, McMahon was criticized during her 2010 Senate bid for accepting $9.8 million in tax credits in 2009, the same year WWE “laid off about 10 percent of its global workforce, or about 60 workers,” because the tax credits were established to help create Connecticut jobs.

McMahon's campaign reportedly “referred questions about the film tax credits to WWE”.  Company spokesman Robert Zimmerman said WWE “has a duty to its shareholders to take advantage of approved tax credits,” and that the "overwhelming majority" of nearly 60 new hires were working in Connecticut.

It was not discussed why or how 60 jobs were lost in 2009, but 60 more were created a year later.

The second bullet point touches on one of the most prickly issues in professional wrestling, the status of wrestlers as independent contractors, as opposed to being full-fledged company employees.

“No Health Benefits: McMahon denied health benefits for her workers, which isn't surprising because she also wants to let health insurance companies deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. [New Haven Register, 6/25/12; Greenwich Daily Voice, 8/10/12]”

The wording of the Daily Voice article is that McMahon “would work to repeal Obamacare” and also “eliminating some government programs.” 

Other articles have highlighted the issues McMahon has had in reaching female voters who view womanhood as a pre-existing condition. 

McMahon's platform is pro-choice, but the candidate was criticized when her spokesman Todd Abrajano told the Hartford Courant she would have "reluctantly" voted for the Blunt amendment, which was a proposal about women's rights tacked on to a highway funding bill.

The amendment was drafted by the Republican Senator from Missouri, Roy Blunt, was openly supported by that party's presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and was defeated in the Senate on March 1 of this year, prohibiting it from becoming law.

According to the New York Times, the Blunt amendment “would have allowed any employer or insurance company to refuse coverage for any activity to which they claim a religious or moral objection. That would have meant that any employer who objects to cervical-cancer vaccines could have refused to provide health insurance that covers them. The same goes for prenatal sonograms for unmarried mothers, or birth control, H.I.V. screening or mammograms.”

Senator Blunt has not made it clear why a highway funding bill should have an amendment concerning reproductive rights.

Abrajano said McMahon's support of the bill was “not because it had anything to do with birth control,” but “more about religious freedom and overregulation of business. The Blunt amendment would have alleviated those two concerns for her.”

As to the no health benefits, professional wrestlers have been famously labeled independent contractors since the business began, which, according to the New York Times, frees wrestling promotions "from paying health insurance, Social Security and Medicare contributions and unemployment insurance."  

In 1987, Jesse Ventura tried to unionize the WWE locker room, but could not find support to do so.  Years later, former WWE wrestlers Raven, Kanyon and Mike Sanders filed a lawsuit against the company over the independent contractor classification. A federal judge dismissed the case in 2009 because the statute of limitations had expired, and no legal questions regarding the classification were resolved.

McMahon told the New York Times in 2010 that while WWE does not pay health insurance, it does pay surgery costs for Superstars' wrestling-related injuries.  The company also offers other perks, such as financial counseling, and, as told to the Times, “merchandising deals, royalty payments and appearance fees."

Unlike actors or other athletes who are supported by strong unions, the viewpoint of WWE, expressed in that same article, is that a professional wrestler's contract is similar to that of a professional golfer, where the athlete is in business for his or herself.

When the wrestling world was a patchwork of profitable territories, a case could have been made for that reasoning.  For the modern wrestler traveling from town to town and making a living on the independent circuit, a case could be made for that, as well. 

WWE comes under scrutiny because it is the self-proclaimed “global leader” of this particular brand of entertainment—and is so by design, starting in the 1980's when Vince and Linda McMahon purchased those territories to expand their northeastern empire into an international touchstone; and up into recent years, when WWE purchased the only two remaining big league competitors, Time-Warner's WCW, and the independent ECW.

WWE is viewed by rookies as the only major league game in town, much the same as the NFL, NBA and NHL are viewed by athletes looking to make a name for themselves in those arenas.  As forward thinking as WWE is in many respects, detractors cite the independent contractor status as a relic from a bygone era the company helped end.


The final point the mailer addresses:

Sexual Humiliation of Women: McMahon expected her female employees to submit to      sexual humiliation for the sake of her company's profit margins. [Christian Science  Monitor, 7/22/10; Huffington Post, 10/13/10]”

While both editorials cited above make a strong case for WWE's sometimes despicable treatment of women—such as the murdered corpse of the Katie Vick character being raped in her casket by Triple-H (now the current COO)—neither article shows a direct link between McMahon and the story content creation. 

While McMahon was either president or CEO of the entertainment provider when women were being depicted as prostitutes and made to bark like a dog, there's no evidence to suggest she personally “expected her female employees to submit to sexual humiliation for the sake of her company's profit margins,” just as there isn't proof she used the influence of her position to prohibit misogynistic scenes from being created and subsequently broadcast.

In addition to this mailing, a press release from the AFL-CIO states, “Unions across Connecticut are supplementing this blitz of mailers with phone banks and a round of statewide canvasses over the weekend in Manchester, Norwich, Norwalk, and New Britain.”

McMahon's opponent in the November 6 election is Chris Murphy, the current U. S. Representative for Connecticut's 5th congressional district. Both are vying for the Senate seat of the retiring Joe Lieberman. If McMahon wins, she'll serve alongside Democrat Richard Blumenthal—her 2010 political rival when both fought for the retiring Chris Dodd's chair.

Murphy is not mentioned in the mailer, but the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO has formally endorsed him, as they did during the party primaries.