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Beltway Confidential

How a Las Vegas casino workers union tried to shut down a Boston UFC event

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Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Massachusetts,Las Vegas,Analysis

Yes, you read that headline right. Reason contributor and Boston resident Garret Quinn has an interesting story up on the magazine’s website about how UFC Fight Night 26, a mixed martial arts event hosted in Boston on Saturday by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, became a proxy grudge match about unionizing Las Vegas casinos.

UFC President Dana White told Quinn that staging this event had the most regulatory headaches he could remember and that as a consequence they may decide against holding future such events in Boston.

The regulatory hurdles included a rarely-enforced law requiring that all fighters have Social Security numbers — a problem since some at Fight Night 26, like Irishman Conor McGregor, weren’t US citizens. Various liberal groups also raised objections to the state giving a fighting license to marquee attraction Chael Sonnen, who has a conviction for money-laundering and history of impolitic public comments. Finally, the city is considering a resolution banning anyone under 18 and younger from attending a mixed martial arts event, even with a parent.

Why the burst of anti-UFC activity by Boston pols and officials? Quinn explains:

The majority owners of the UFC, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, own the Station Casinos chain, one of largest casino companies in the United States, and they are caught up in a never-ending feud with the Las Vegas Culinary Union. Unions represent workers at nearly every casino in Las Vegas but Station Casinos properties, like Red Rock Resort Spa and Casino that hosted the 2012 Libertarian National Convention, remain unconquered territory for them. Efforts by the union and others to unionize workers at mega-resorts the Palazzo and the Venetian on The Strip, owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, have been unsuccessful as well.

Union organizers have made their case about pay, benefits, and employee treatment at Station Casinos but the root of the dispute is how workers would authorize union representation for themselves at Station Casinos’ properties. The union wants to use a process commonly used on The Strip known as card check, or majority-sign up, where workers simply sign a card stating they want a union to represent them. If a majority of workers submit signed cards then a union is formed. Station Casinos is against this process and wants the union to use a secret ballot process for workers to vote on whether or not to unionize.

Before the Las Vegas Culinary Union took its campaign on the road it led efforts to discourage convention goers and event planners from patronizing Station Casinos through letter writing and websites. In May of this year the union organized a weeklong fast outside the Red Rock Casino. Protests and other activities occur frequently but so far they have remained unsuccessful for the union so they have turned up the pressure on Fertitta-owned UFC.

Union-friendly Boston became one of the places to turn up the pressure. The UFC was able to navigate the various regulatory hurdles and hold the event anyway but future fights there are now in doubt.

The story concludes with some trash talk by UFC’s White from Saturday post-fight event that was worthy of a pre-fight press conference: “When you guys were asking the other day why we don’t bow down to them and give them what they want. … We’re never going to give them what they want. We’re going to continue to do what we do. [Las Vegas casino owner] Sheldon Adelson beat them half to death and we’re going to do the same thing.” 

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Author:

Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner