Democrat in Conn. US Senate race, unions take aim at McMahon’s management of wrestling empire

By Susan Haigh, AP
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dem, unions bash McMahon, WWE in Conn. Senate race

HARTFORD, Conn. — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal and his supporters in organized labor united Wednesday to heap criticism on Republican Linda McMahon and how she has run her Connecticut-based professional wrestling empire.

At one news conference, Blumenthal, the state’s attorney general, mentioned how McMahon “took home” $46 million in 2009, the year her World Wrestling Entertainment laid off 10 percent of its employees, and said voters should question her business practices.

At a separate event, members of the Connecticut AFL-CIO accused McMahon of outsourcing jobs to foreign countries by having WWE merchandise, such as toys and clothing, manufactured overseas.

“The question that Linda McMahon will have to answer is how she’s run her business and how she’s treated the people who have worked for her,” Blumenthal told reporters, making some of his first critical remarks of the wealthy former executive. Both are vying to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd.

Blumenthal ticked off a list of “questions” for voters, such as a current state investigation into possible misclassification of independent contract workers at the WWE, “illegal abuse of steroids and drugs” and whether WWE management and McMahon “turned a blind eye to them,” and how “the business marketed sex and violence to children.”

Ed Patru, a spokesman for McMahon, said Blumenthal stopped short of answering his own questions “because in 20 years as attorney general, he never once raised a single objection to WWE,” he said. “His rhetoric today is transparently political.”

Blumenthal said his office is not involved in the WWE worker classification investigation, but he has been involved with a state task force looking at ways to crack down on companies that try to trim employment costs by illegally classifying workers as independent contractors, rather than as full employees.

WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman said the company has always followed the law and constantly reviews its practices and procedures “to comply with ever-changing employee laws” and said its talent are treated very well, earning on average more than $550,000 a year.

“Up until this election, WWE has not been fined nor investigated in the past for independent contractor classification,” said WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman. “However, curiously, the state of Connecticut is currently conducting an audit of WWE’s classification of independent contractors.”

The state departments of labor and revenue services, the two agencies that typically conduct such investigations into alleged misclassification, have said they are prohibited from confirming or denying an audit of a company.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Blumenthal currently leads McMahon by 6 percentage points among likely voters. Earlier polls of registered voters had given him a larger lead. McMahon has spent more than $20 million since entering the race last fall, much of it on TV ads and mailings criticizing Blumenthal.

John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, a labor umbrella organization which endorsed Blumenthal, said he’s personally annoyed by McMahon’s recent TV ad featuring her with a metal lunch box and talking about the need to fight for jobs. Olsen said Stamford-based WWE has used overseas firms instead of Connecticut-based companies to manufacture some of its merchandise.

“She had a lot of opportunity I think to do something about creating and promoting jobs here in Connecticut if she really cared,” he said. “She can’t even show me where she tried.”

Patru said it’s wrong to criticize WWE for the company’s licensed toys being manufactured overseas in places like China. WWE has a licensing agreement with toymaker Mattel Inc.

“WWE doesn’t make toys; Mattel does and I think most families in Connecticut own Mattel-manufactured toys,” he said. “It’s a stretch, to say the least, to suggest Linda is responsible for the fact that 90 percent to 95 percent of toys aren’t manufactured in the U.S.”

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