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