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Efforts Under Way To Unionize UFC Fighters

Two of the largest unions in the United States are taking aim at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, otherwise known as UFC.

The Teamsters and the Culinary Worker’s Union are working to organize the UFC fighters into a union similar to those representing football or basketball players.

Chris Griswold with the Teamsters of Las Vegas told KNPR's State of Nevada that the fighters came to them to organize.

"This is what we do," Griswold said, "The Teamsters and the Culinary have a long history in Las Vegas in helping workers improve their lives, have a voice in the business they're working in."

Griswold said the effort to unionize is not just for UFC fighters but all mixed-martial arts fighters. He said the fighters have expressed concern about everything from safety issues to how they are paid. 

"The fighters that are making the money for these promoters don't have a voice and they want to have a voice," Griswold said. "They want a united voice and this is how they're going to get it done."

Beau Dure has written about the UFC and MMA for the Guardian newspaper. He said the recent deal between UFC and Reebok is an example of how the sport is changing.

Under the deal, fighters now wear Reebok clothing exclusively.

In the past, fighters could get their own sponsorships and advertise what they wanted, which would have been advantageous in the new era of undercards being televised.

"You had the opportunity for fighters to say, 'well I'm the seventh fight on this card but I'll be able to get these sponsor logos up behind me on television,' now they can't do that," Dure said.

Dure explained that the way the Reebok sponsorship works undercard fighters are not paid very much.

For Griswold, the Reebok deal is an example of why the union is needed.

"If they had a say in the matter, the Reebok deal wouldn't have been formed in the way that it was," he said.

Dure agrees that the "fighters at this point need a unified voice." However, he's not sure the Culinary Union should be the one's behind the effort, because he said the union is trying keep MMA out of New York state.

"I'm skeptical about having the same union that was lobbying against the sport itself being the people now to represent the fighters," Dure said.

The Culinary is an organization the UFC’s majority ownership, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and company president, Dana White are familiar with.

The Culinary has been trying, but failing to unionize Station Casinos workers for several years.

Griswold dismissed the idea that the fight between the Fertittas and the Culinary is why the union is involved with UFC. He said the fighters came to them. 

"If you get all these fighters to have one united voice at the table, they're going to have to deal with them," Griswold said.

Steven Cheung with the UFC's communication team sent the following statement after the segment aired: 

"The modern era of the UFC has seen incredible gains in athlete safety and compensation along with the mainstream success of a once marginalized sport.

We are proud of this amazing record and consider it extremely duplicitous that the same labor union that has spent years demeaning UFC athletes, denouncing the sport of mixed martial arts, and doing everything possible to keep MMA out of New York, is now claiming to care about the interests of athletes in the UFC.

Indeed, UFC has spent considerable time and effort defending against the outrageous allegations by this local union about athletes who have chosen to compete in the UFC. This is nothing more than the newest brazen tactic in a failing effort to organize culinary workers at a Las Vegas casino.

It is shameful that local union leaders would try to use UFC athletes as pawns to advance this hidden agenda.

We are proud of our relationship with all athletes who have entered into contracts with the UFC, and we are proud to produce a product that is enjoyed by millions of fans around the world."

Chris Griswold, secretary-treasurer, Teamsters in Las Vegas; Beau Dure, freelance writer

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