Friday, May 13, 2011

The Realization of a MMA Fighter's Union: Boxing Union Chimes in

Culinary Union protesters march to "condemn Station Casinos’
anti-union campaigns." Zuffa LLC owner, Frank Fertita is a
major stakeholder in Station Casinos. [Source]
Will there ever be a MMA fighters' union?

This is a question that continues to keep the mixed martial arts industry on its toes. It is a topic that seems to pop up every now and then, usually finding its way to headlines whenever the UFC flounders on a fighters' rights or legal issue. The latest charge in the media brings the Zuffa empire to the forefront of the MMA-union debate once again, and this time it appears that the issue is coming to a head.

There couldn't have been better timing for this issue to take form again. Wisconsin has taken center stage in state government-labor union relations. Meanwhile, the NFL Players' Association is involved in a heated battle with NFL owners that could lead to a season lockout. Simply put, labor unions are making headlines, and as fate would have it, Zuffa LLC is right in the mix.

Zuffa LLC has found itself in a tug-of-war with the labor community. The company is being stretched at both ends -- at one end, a legal battle between a prominent labor union and Station Casinos which has spilled over into the New York MMA legalization process, and on the other end stands the prospect of a MMA fighters' union (to which Zuffa LLC is resistant).

Last week Dana White, president of the UFC, alleged that the press for MMA sanctioning in New York is being blocked by the Culinary Union. White believes the union is pulling strings in New York to help prevent any MMA sanctioning from being passed. New York has become a final frontier for the UFC. The idea of holding shows there presents dollar signs, but other business has gotten in the way.

Frank Fertita heads Station Casinos which is currently involved in a legal battle with the Culinary Union. The Culinary Union is assisting Station Casinos workers in an effort to "unionize" the casino company. The National Labor Relations Board has filed a lawsuit against Station Casinos on behalf of the Culinary Union and UNITE HERE. The suite cites 166 labor law violations.

The drama between the Culinary Union/UNITE HERE and Station Casinos has spilled over into the Zuffa-led MMA legalization campaign in New York, as Dana White alleges that the union is working against Zuffa's efforts to get MMA legalized there. Dana White expressed this idea last week when he made the following comments:

"It has nothing to do with mixed martial arts the reason that we’re not in New York. It has to do with the Culinary Union.
The Culinary Union is spending millions of dollars of all these people who pay dues to keep us out of there because my partners the Fertitta brothers are the largest non-union gaming company in the country,” he said at the post-UFC 129 press conference." (via MMA Weekly)

The Culinary Union issued a comeback of their own when umbrella labor organization UNITE HERE published a formal memo titled, "Memorandum of Opposition S01707A." The memo states:

"S01707A proposes to amend chapter 912 of the laws of 1920 relating to the regulation of boxing, sparring, and wrestling, in relation to legalizing professional combative sports events in the state and to amend the tax law to impose a tax on such events. In its current form, S01707A would allow the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), which has achieved nearly a monopoly position in the sport of mixed martial art, to dictate abusive and exploitative contract terms with fighters. On March 14, the UFC's parent company also purchased Strikeforce, the second largest mixed martial arts promoter. This could potentially make it even more difficult for professional mixed martial arts fighters to negotiate fair contracts." (Read more)

(S01707A is the law that, if passed, will legally sanction mixed martial arts in New York.

It's really hard to guess what affect any of this will have on efforts to create a fighters' union. In all actuality, it seems there is not much effort on behalf of the fighters to seek the formation of such an organization. Or is it that their desires to create one have been quelled or influenced by the powers that be? Who knows? If anything, labor organizations like UNITE HERE appear to show interest in the mixed martial arts industries' need for unionization. In fact another, more closely related organization has chimed in on the matter.

Earlier this week, I contacted a representative from the Joint Association of Boxers (J.A.B.), a union for boxers that is affiliated with the Teamsters Union. I received a formal statement from Walter Kane, an attorney who was pivotal in the formation of the JAB. Mr. Kane offered words of support for the formation of a MMA fighters' union:

"The Joint Association of Boxers fully supports MMA. I could see a time where the two organizations mutually support each other and form a close working relationship. JAB does not subscribe to belief that Boxers and MMA participants have adverse interests. The advancement of the interests of MMA fighters benefits Professional Boxers and vice versa. Both Professional Boxers and MMA fighters deserve full disclosure and transparency from promoters, arenas and television networks. Both groups need to recognize that their fellow participants are their greatest form of strength to fight back against exploitation by unscrupulous promoters."

At this point it's still hard to say whether or not the JAB will take up the task of forming a union for MMA fighters, but from what from what I've gathered through personal communications, it does sound like they might be open to including MMA fighters in the boxer's union.

Part 2 of this series is forthcoming.

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