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Union Labor Not United Against MMA in New York

Peter Lampasona
11 May 2011
Union Labor Not United Against MMA in New York

Over the last two weeks, the feud between labor organization Unite Here and UFC majority owners the Fertitta brothers has gone from a piece of trivia on the east coast to the purported reason for why MMA is still not sanctioned in the state of New York. UFC president Dana White has gone from cryptic statements about unseen forces holding back the sport in the Empire State to directly blaming the Culinary Union Local 226 and their parent company, Unite Here, for killing New York MMA.

While Unite Here has had a well documented and long standing grudge with the Fertittas over lack of unionized labor in the Fertitta-owned Station Casinos, the union organization's attempts to derail MMA in New York in reprisal were thought to have been abandoned back in 2008. This week, MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani released a memo from Unite Here that spoke out against the sport in the New York State Senate.

While the memo may be damning for Unite Here in the eyes of MMA fans, the details of the story don't place organized labor, or even all of the Local 226, against mixed martial arts in the state of New York.

New York State Assembly Labor Chairman Keith L. T. Wright may be the most surprised at the idea that organized labor is anti-MMA. On March 15, Wright released his own memorandum to his fellow Assemblymen that contained one of the most detailed and glowing statements in support of MMA in New York by any legislator to date.

Wright's office does not believe that Unite Here's efforts have been effective, or even terribly organized this year.

"I don't believe [Unite Here] is what's holding up MMA in New York," said Wright's Communications Director, Ben Rosen. "Unite Here has never reached out to us on this. You would think that they would want to come to the Chairman of Labor about something like this.... We're more than willing to meet with them and discuss their concerns."

In order for MMA to be sanctioned in the Empire State, both the Assembly and the Senate must approve sister legislation on the matter. The bill currently in the Senate is projected to pass by an overwhelming amount, as it has in the past. The place where the real battle for MMA will be pitched this and most other years is the State Assembly. Yet, the only demonstrable lobbying efforts from Unite Here against MMA have been directed towards the Senate Bill, where they won't be at all effective.

Meanwhile, where a dedicated force to stop MMA could have a major impact, neither Unite Here nor the 226 have even spoken to one of the most important figures in the debate. Rosen reported that their office had no knowledge of Unite Here meeting with anyone within the Assembly this year.

This would mean that either Unite Here isn't at all versed in the legal situation in New York or the front against the sport isn't so united.

Both Unite Here and representatives from the Local 226 have declined to give official statements to any media regarding MMA in New York. However, a source close to the Local 226's New York branch described many leading members as not only being unopposed to MMA in New York, but being fans of the young combat sport.

That source went on to differentiate between Local 226 members in New York from the Unite Here home office on the West Coast, describing the former as "more of the Unite" and the latter being "the Here."

The battle for labor rights in Station Casinos still rages on in Nevada and remains a Nevada problem. Regarding MMA sanctioning in New York, Unite Here seems to be completely disconnected from the process, putting up only token resistance in a place where it will do nothing while its actual local members secretly support the sport. Meanwhile, Zuffa places sole blame for the sport not being sanctioned on these efforts.

This means that either both Unite Here and Zuffa Entertainment have no idea how they are spending their own money, or New York is being used by both parties as a PR stunt to make the other look bad back in Las Vegas, creating boogeymen that distract from the real legislative process.

Last Modified:
11 May 2011

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