Las Vegas Review-Journal: Culinary challenging UFC to rile Fertittas
May 22, 2011
By Howard Stutz
Culinary Local 226 has used various venues in an unsuccessful quest over the years to unionize at least half of Station Casinos' 13,000 employees.
Stepping into the Octagon, however, may not be the wisest move.
The union, through the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, has squared off with Zuffa LLC, the Las Vegas-based owner of Ultimate Fighting Championship, a multibillion-dollar-a-year business.
Station Casinos' founders Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta are Zuffa's majority owners. The organization is leading an effort in the New York Legislature to legalize sanctioned mixed martial events in the state.
New York is the last untapped American market for mixed martial arts and could provide a lucrative payout for both the state and fighting organizations such as the UFC.
An economic impact study, funded by the UFC, shows MMA events in New York could generate $23 million in annual revenue to the state.
The Culinary, through its New York affiliate, is trying to squelch the legislation as a way of getting back at the Fertitta brothers and Station Casinos. Union lobbyists want to keep a bill from passing New York's Assembly and Senate before lawmakers adjourn at the end of June.
The move has perplexed and angered outspoken UFC President Dana White, who called the union's action "extortion" in an interview last week.
White's comment was a little more diplomatic than his remarks at the UFC 129 postfight press conference in Toronto. He said "these union idiots" are trying to keep the UFC out of New York, "because of my partners, the Fertitta brothers."
White said unions are not acting in the best interests of their members. A UFC card at New York City's Madison Square Garden would employ hundreds of union electricians, stagehands, security guards and ushers. It would also fill surrounding hotel rooms, whose workers are union members.
White said UFC 129, which included the UFC Fan Expo, paid more than $1.5 million in direct wages to unionized workers. Toronto realized an economic impact of $45 million in just 72 hours during the event.
"It doesn't make any sense," White said. "The union is using the dues of union members to fight against something that would provide jobs and wages to other union members."
Station Casinos is a separate business entity from UFC. The only connection is the Fertittas, who have ownership in both. Zuffa CEO Lorenzo Fertitta went to New York to lobby for the legislation.
The union's opposition, said White, "has nothing to do with UFC or MMA." The fight, he said, is between the Culinary and Station Casinos.
White put a submission hold on several of the union's arguments.
Zuffa acquired rival Strikeforce in March and UFC is the world's largest MMA organization, but it is not a monopoly. The UFC would hold two cards a year in New York. White predicted as many as 70 other fight cards by independent operators.
As for union claims that Zuffa doesn't care about its employees, White said the organization has implemented 24-hour, worldwide accident insurance for 350 fighters under contract with UFC and Strikeforce.
White also put a takedown on allegations that the UFC is anti-union. The business works with organized labor where it holds fights and uses a union-owned travel booking company, ensuring UFC fighters and staff stay in unionized hotels.
The Culinary declined comment, referring the matter to the New York affiliate. Culinary leaders recently said Station Casinos didn't put on a defense argument in a current unfair labor practice hearing before an administrative law judge. The company countered that it didn't need to present rebuttal because the claims were meritless.
Taking on UFC is just another tactic in the fight.
Station Casinos soon will emerge from bankruptcy reorganization with $4 billion less in debt and a new ownership structure. The Fertittas won't be in the majority but will control day-to-day operations. In that structure, the Culinary's organizing quest could be all but KO'd.
As for New York and the UFC, the union should just tap out.