The biggest story in wrestling last week, and one with the potential to become the biggest story in wrestling in decades, was WWE firing Zelina Vega after Vega refused to give up her Twitch account. Ten minutes before WWE announced her release, Vega tweeted in support of unionization. Doing so perfectly positioned the event to serve as a flashpoint for discussion of WWE's labor practices and classification of talent as independent contractors. Thanks to that tweet, Vega attracted the attention of SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris.
The whole saga began in September when WWE demanded all of its wrestlers stop working with third-party platforms like Twitch or Cameo and instead begin streaming on Twitch through WWE, under a deal where WWE effectively keeps all the profits. Due to the pandemic, WWE has drastically cut down the number of live shows to only televised shows, which means that they are not making enough per appearance to exceed their downside guarantee, a minimum amount for many wrestlers of money they're contracted for. WWE has been making record profits this year thanks to lowered costs, and yet they still wanted to take the supplemental revenue streams away from their talent.
The move raised the eyebrows of a lot of fans. It caught the attention of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who threatened to investigate WWE under a Joe Biden administration. HBO's John Oliver had already brought mainstream attention to WWE's independent contractor status in 2019 by featuring it on his show, Last Week Tonight. Wrestlers not working for WWE were vocal in opposition to the policy. Fans were on the side of WWE wrestlers in this. And yet, few wrestlers working for WWE were willing or in a reasonable position to risk their jobs to fight back. Paige, who is retired from the ring and has a sizeable following on Twitch, decided to keep going. Zelina Vega decided not only to retain control of her Twitch account but also to launch a (non-explicit) OnlyFans account. She also tweeted openly questioning WWE's policy and flirted with the notion of unionization, along with Paige. According to a report from Sports Illustrated, Vince McMahon considered Vega's decision a breach of contract, which led to her firing.
And now, Carteris has issued an official statement on the matter to Wrestling Inc.:
Wrestling is as much about media as it is sports, and we are going to directly engage with members of this profession to help find ways for them to protect themselves.
As more people reinvest in unions, and as more working people are harassed by employers who don't want to protect them, SAG-AFTRA is committed to doing what we can to help professional wrestlers secure the protections they deserve.
If serious traction gets behind a movement to unionize wrestlers, including by incorporating them into SAG-AFTRA, or if Andrew Yang follows through on his threat to investigate WWE, it could spell big trouble for the company, which could be forced to change the way it does business. We'll have to wait and see if this story continues to build steam.