Teamsters and Culinary Union Announce Effort to Unionize UFC Fighters

Teamsters and Culinary Union Announce Effort to Unionize UFC Fighters

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has been fighting for years to get professional mixed martial arts legalized in the state of New York. There has been a tremendous amount of support in the state’s Senate and Assembly, but each time that a bill gets down to the final step, a vote on the Assembly floor, it is derailed without being voted on.

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UFC executives Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta have often spoken about the issue, frequently pointing to the influence of union organizers in New York politics as a key element in failure of the New York legislature to pass a mixed martial arts measure.

“It has nothing to do with mixed martial arts. Of all things, it’s the Culinary Union that’s keeping us out of New York,” White has stated for years.

On Thursday, two of the largest unions in the United States added credence to White and Fertitta’s claims. The Teamsters Local 986 and the Culinary Worker’s Union Local 226, both with large support bases in Nevada, released a statement saying that they are taking it upon themselves to work towards organizing the UFC fighters into a union akin to other sports leagues.

White and Fertitta have often pointed to the Culinary Union’s failed efforts to unionize the Fertitta family’s privately owned Station Casinos business as a reason the union has used its influence to impede MMA legislation in New York, trying to force the Fertitta's hand at their casinos in Nevada.

The joint statement reads in full:

Today, two of the largest unions in the “fight capital” of the world launched an initiative to organize MMA fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), the largest promoter of professional MMA events.

“We have been surprised to learn how poorly these professional fighters are treated in the UFC. We want to help them to improve conditions for themselves and raise standards for the sport,” said Chris Griswold, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 986, one of the largest Teamsters locals in the country with 17,000 members in Southern California and Nevada.

“UFC fighters can set a new agenda for their sport and make it better by working with regulators, sponsors, investors, and other stakeholders,” added Griswold. “As our efforts did for workers in other industries, fighters united for change can make a huge difference.”

“All workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer of UNITE HERE’s Culinary Workers Union Local 226, the largest union in Las Vegas with 55,000 members. “Housekeepers, kitchen workers, and tens of thousands of other workers in Las Vegas have stood up together to fight for an opportunity to provide for their families. There is no reason UFC fighters cannot do the same.”

“Our unions can bring more tools and resources to the table, including our relationships with other professional athletes’ unions,” added Arguello-Kline. “Mixed martial arts play a big part in the success of the Las Vegas tourism industry, and UFC fighters deserve to share in that success, too.”

More information can be found at the initiative’s website, Fighters’ Agenda:

Teamsters Local 986 and UNITE HERE Culinary Local 226 have several joint organizing projects in Las Vegas, including the Station Casinos organizing campaign, one of the largest private-sector organizing drives in the country. Station Casinos, an affiliate of the UFC, is the worst labor law-breaker in the history of Las Vegas gaming industry, having broken federal labor law eighty-eight times.

There have been many calls from many corners for unionization of mixed martial arts fighters, but this is the first big push by sizable organizations like the Teamsters and the Culinary Union to make it happen. The Teamsters/Culinary Union initiative, however, seems to focus solely on the UFC and its fighters, not the sport in its entirety.

The Fighters' Agenda website offers many statistics, all surrounded by the unions taking pot shots at the UFC. For example, the home page's opening salvo is “UFC = U Fight Cheap.”

Whether or not the joint effort grows any legs, remains to be seen.

UFC officials had yet to respond to a request for comment on the joint statement as of the time of publication.

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