UFC paying lobbyists big money as Senate closes on bill that could affect fighters’ employee status

The UFC has been pumping money into US politics for the past decade, with mixed success. Through lobbying they have sought to promote mixed…

By: Tim Bissell | 11 months ago
UFC paying lobbyists big money as Senate closes on bill that could affect fighters’ employee status
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

The UFC has been pumping money into US politics for the past decade, with mixed success. Through lobbying they have sought to promote mixed martial arts to lawmakers and argue for tougher laws on piracy and copyright infringement.

The UFC has also used lobbying to focus on issues regarding foreign relations, work visas and the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act (an act that would give MMA fighters the same kind of control over their careers as boxers currently enjoy).

Thanks to federal disclosure forms we can see exactly how much the UFC is spending on official lobbying missions. We also know who they employ to do this, what branches of government they target and what specific issues their lobbyists are focused on.

Recent disclosure form releases show us that in the last two quarters of 2021 the UFC started lobbying work on a specific set of bills: H.R.842 and S.420. These bills are known as the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021. The disclosure forms also list “Employment status of mixed martial artists” as an issue of concern for the UFC.

Those two issues were part of a package of issues the UFC paid Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP to conduct lobbying work on. The UFC typically pays this firm $80,000 a quarter for lobbying work. So, to date, the UFC has disclosed $240,000 worth of spending on the Right to Organize Act of 2021, among other issues.

H.R.842 was introduced into the US House of Representatives on February 4, 2021 by Robert Scott, a Democrat from Virginia’s 3rd district. According to congress.gov the bill “expands various labor protections related to employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace.” An identical version of the bill was introduced to the US Senate, under the name S.420, on February 24 by Patty Murray the senior Senator for Washington (also a Democrat).

Among the specific details in these bills are revisions of the official definitions of “employee”, “supervisor” and “employer”. The bills seek to broaden the scopes of these terms.

This would involve adding the following amendment to The National Labor Relations Act.

“An individual performing any service shall be considered an employee (except as provided in the previous sentence) and not an independent contractor, unless—

“(A) the individual is free from control and direction in connection with the performance of the service, both under the contract for the performance of service and in fact;

“(B) the service is performed outside the usual course of the business of the employer; and

“(C) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business of the same nature as that involved in the service performed.”.

The bills also seek to permit labor organizations to encourage their union members to participate in strike actions initiated by other labor organizations. The bills also seek to add protections for union members against employers who might want to persecute them for being a part of secondary strikes.

The bills also seek to add a number of activities to the US’s list of unfair labor practises. Among those prospective additions are the act of firing someone because they participated in a strike and attempts to require or coerce employees into attending meetings designed to discourage union membership. The bills also wants to make it illegal for employers to have employees waive their rights to pursue or join a collective or class-action lawsuit.

The full text of the bills can be found here (H.R.842, S.420)

H.R.842, the version of the bill submitted to the House of Representatives, acquired 213 co-sponsors. 210 of those co-sponsors were Democrats and three were Republican. The Republicans who co-sponsored the bill were Christoper Smith [NJ-4], Brian Fitzpatrick [PA-1] and Jefferson Van Drew [NJ-2].

The bill passed through the Democrat controlled House of Representatives on March 9, 2021 with a vote of 225 yeas to 206 nays. All but one Democrat voted yea on the bill. The lone dissenter was Henry Cuellar, from Texas’ 28th district. Five republicans voted yea on the bill, they included all the GOP co-sponsors along with John Katko [NY-24] and the late Don Young [AK]. Thomas Tiffany [R WI-7] is the only Representative who did not vote on the bill.

S.420 has yet to receive a vote in the Democrat controlled Senate. This bill currently has 46 cosponsors. 44 of those cosponsors are Democrats. Two are Independents. The two Independent cosponsors are Bernie Sanders [VT] and Angus King [ME].

There are only three Democratic Senators who have not cosponsored the bill. They are Kyrsten Sinema [AZ] and Mark Kelly [AZ] and Mark Warner [VI].

If those three Senators agreed to vote along with all the other Democrat and Independent co-sponsors the bill could pass the Senate on a 50-50 vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris voting yea (as the tiebreaker). However, the Republicans could use a filibuster to derail the vote and prevent the bill from passing. To prevent this the bill it would need support from at least ten more Senators.

The lobbying disclosure forms do not tell us what side of an issue a lobbying client falls on. However, one can assume that the UFC does not want those three Democratic Senators to join the ranks of their fellow party members.

If the bill is passed it would give fighters more of a shot at being recognized as employees within the UFC (instead of independent contractors). When someone has employee status in the US they become entitled to a number of conditions under law. These conditions include parental leave, redundancy pay, and protection against discrimination, harassment, unsafe work environments and unfair dismissal.

The line “Employment status of mixed martial artists” in the UFC’s lobbying disclosure forms might mean that UFC’s lobbyists are talking to politicians about excluding MMA fighters from the kind of benefits mentioned above. If UFC fighters remain ‘independent contractors’ in the eyes of Federal Law after the Senate bill passes, fighters will still be left without the basic rights all employees are entitled to in the United States.

In their earlier disclosure forms it shows that the UFC had directed their longtime lobbyist William Moschella to focus on the US House of Representatives. His focus there did not prevent the bill passing through the House. The most recent disclosure form shows that Moschella is exclusively targeting the Senate on the UFC’s behalf now.

If a US citizen wishes to contact their US Senator for any reason (including requesting they show support for or against a specific bill) they can use the ‘Contacting U.S. Senators’ tool on senate.gov.

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About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

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