Attorney notes 'Precipitous decline' in union cards following Smith release

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Women's bantamweight Leslie Smith organized Project Spearhead, a fighter unionization effort, centered at least initially on the UFC. Smith seeks to get 30% of UFC fighters to sign union authorization cards; the deadline is February of 2019.

The league characteristically offers fighters a new contract before the old one expires. Smith said none was offered, so her scheduled fight vs. Aspen Ladd at Fight Night 128 on April 21 was to have potentially been her last.

When Ladd failed to make weight, Smith offered to fight if she was given a two-fight contract at a flat $100,000 per fight, win or lose. The UFC declined the offer, and Smith considered taking the fight without a contract, but ultimately decided against it, as she is trying to lead an effort to get better contracts. The UFC paid Smith her win and show money, and did not offer her a new contract, leaving her a free agent.

Smith now has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board arguing that the UFC failure to re-sign her was retaliation for the organizing effort, and thus illegal. Attorney Lucas Middlebrook, who has been advising Project Spearhead, wrote the 12-page complaint, which can be found here.

Middlebrook appeared recently on MMAjunkie Radio and said there has a been a decline in union authorization card signings since Smith was not re-signed, and he cites that as a relevant factor in her complaint. Further, he says multiple figures said that “the fear increased and the people retreated after they did what they did to Leslie.”

“There was no other choice but for Leslie to file this charge, in order to show the rest of the fighters what they did is illegal,” said Middlebrook, as transcribed by Steven Marrocco for MMAjunkie. “And they’re not going to do it to you, because they did it to me, and I’m going to fight back. I’m going to show that it’s illegal, and there’s a federal agency here that’s designed to protect you.”

Middlebrook was initially informed that a regional National Labor Relations Board office found merit in Smith's case, but later learned that the national office said the case needed to be evaluated further.

“We received a phone call saying this case has been decided on the merit determination, and only later to say, now, we’re being told it has to be sent to [Washington, D.C.],” said Middlebrook. “To me, in my opinion, smacks of political string-pulling.”