The fight for mixed martial arts in New York


Jillian Kay Melchior, a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, and frequent contributor to National Review, has written perhaps the best summary to date of the Culinary Union 226's odious efforts to thwart mixed martial arts in New York state.

Follow Melchior on Twitter.

The UFC had originally planned to hold its 20th-anniversary event at Madison Square Garden, possibly headlining with New York native Jon Jones versus Anderson Silva. But because of a Las Vegas union’s proxy war with two UFC owners, New York is now the only state in the nation where professional mixed martial arts has not been legalized. For the Empire State’s fighting fans and economy alike, that’s a huge loss.

The CEO of UFC, Lorenzo Fertitta, and his brother Frank own the international fighting empire. They also own Station Casinos, which caters to Nevada’s local gamblers. The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 of Las Vegas has long hoped to usher Station Casinos’ employees into its ranks, but it almost certainly lacks the support to win a normal, secret-ballot vote to organize. So instead, the Culinary Union has sought a card-check vote, in which each worker’s yay or nay would be public — leaving those who oppose unionization vulnerable to harassment and intimidation.

The Fertittas consequently oppose card check, and because the Culinary Union can’t win at Station Casinos, it has instead spent its members’ dues to retaliate against the UFC, the Fertittas’ other business endeavor.

New York is the arena. Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York Assembly since 1994, is a union-allied Democrat, and he makes sure that any bill to legalize professional MMA will never make it to the floor for a vote, regardless of strong bipartisan support. As the Wall Street Journal editorial page reported in April, the UFC “has more or less been told the price of getting into New York is to bow to the culinary union” in Nevada.

“You’ve heard the slogan what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — well, that’s very true except when it comes to the union and the UFC,” says Marc Ratner, the UFC’s senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs. “Somehow it manifests itself in the New York political world.”

Ironically, the UFC isn’t anti-union, though its fans may be moving more and more in this direction.

“Every single arena that we go to in the U.S. and Canada is represented by some trade,” Epstein says. “These arenas are full of union workers that we are providing economic benefit to.” Furthermore, says Lawrence Epstein, the executive vice president of the UFC, “Station Casinos has been willing — and is willing right now — to have a secret-ballot election, but the union is not interested because they know they can’t win it.”

A card-check vote, given that it opens the door to harassment, would be especially troubling, in light of the Culinary Union’s recent abuse of tourists. Demonstrating outside the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas last month, Culinary Union members were caught on film calling the casino’s patrons “ugly girls,” “deadbeat dads,” and “beached whales,” and yelling at them to “get some exercise.” One man said the union members called his girlfriend, who is dying from cancer, a “bitch.”

That sort of misogynistic, ad hominem harassment is rich, coming from a union that has bludgeoned the UFC over offensive comments some of its fighters have made. When Quentin “Rampage” Jackson posted a YouTube video joking about sexual violence against women, for instance, the Culinary Union jumped all over it. The UFC quickly denounced Jackson’s comments, and the fighter has since signed with its biggest competitor, Bellator. The UFC acknowledges that, with nearly 400 fighters, it can’t control their every statement, but it does have a code of conduct, and those who violate it face fines and lengthy suspensions. (The Culinary Union is silent on the misconduct of athletes outside the UFC.)

Many sports are violent and many athletes have made offensive comments. What matters more is that there’s strong demand for UFC in New York, and it remains unmet because a local Nevada union is circumventing the democratic process to serve its own political ends.

“I don’t understand how New York can allow itself to be manipulated on an issue that has nothing to do with whether MMA should be [allowed in the state],” Epstein says. “This is an abused process. It’s not an honest debate. . .  We deserve a vote, and the fact that we’re not getting a vote says it all.”

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What do you think UG? Does anyone have a defense of Culinary Union 226's tactics?

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tags: Legislation   Culinary Union 226   New York   

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Recent Comments »

Kneeblock site profile image  

11/25/13 10:34 PM by Kneeblock

I retract that it was bought and paid for if it was written by whom you say. The card check vote is a transparent way of identifying workers who vote with their union in times of opposition as opposed to simply getting the benefits. You want to be a scab via secret ballot, don't expect the union to invite your membership when you move to a closed shop somewhere else. I admit it's a bit grimy but with Station's obstructionist tactics these past few years, needs must. We hate the union because we love MMA, but the one voice I've consistently not heard is Station's culinary workers. Instead we get 5 year old recitations of Station being one of the best places to work with no indication of who even voted.

charms434 site profile image  

11/25/13 9:34 AM by charms434

Ding ding ding!!!!!That was quicker than Little Mac knocking out Glass Joe.(new sn?)

JoeTheWildRover site profile image  

11/22/13 3:32 PM by JoeTheWildRover

wow kirik ko'd this thread

Pitbull3744 site profile image  

11/22/13 9:36 AM by Pitbull3744

  Shit just got real

charms434 site profile image  

11/22/13 8:29 AM by charms434

Did you say what's wrong with a card check?!? How about being ostracized for your opinion? Being pushed out simply because you don't fall in line. Did you see the videos of the 266 Union heads calling men who are on vacation deadbeat dads in front of their kids? Calling the elderly beached whales? You really should learn what you're talking about before you give a half ass response.

guardbr8kr site profile image  

11/22/13 8:22 AM by guardbr8kr


Kirik site profile image  

11/22/13 8:12 AM by Kirik

As Kneeblock can't be found, I'l give you a dollar's worth of pro membership :-)

TenOfSwords site profile image  

11/22/13 7:43 AM by TenOfSwords

How dare this union keep my man Rashad out of MSG and the Barclays Center? But then again, how dare the UFC keep him out of the Cow Palace either. Bring MMA to both NY and SF!

duckhuntgangsta site profile image  

11/21/13 7:43 PM by duckhuntgangsta

I'll do it...for a price....

Kirik site profile image  

11/21/13 7:31 PM by Kirik

If anyone else wants to step up and defend the unions activities, please feel free.