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June 29, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Culinary picks a fight with UFC to get at Station

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Justin M. Bowen

Dana White speaks during the UFC 125 pre-fight press conference Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at MGM Grand.

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J. Patrick Coolican

Culinary Union Local 226 set up a website recently at unfitforchildren.org that details the foul-mouthed tirades of Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Here’s unfitforchildren.org quoting White berating some poor schoolyard schlub: “Whoever gave you that quote is a (anatomical expletive) and a (homophobic slur with a modifying expletive).”

Culinary asks, “Can you imagine NBA Commissioner David Stern or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talking like this?”

I like UFC and realize it’s a nice amphetaminic boost for our deathbed economy. But the question put to White is a reasonable one, especially given UFC’s desire for mainstream legitimacy. The Vince McMahon shtick is juvenile.

Another reasonable question, though, from UFC fans: What union? In case you don’t know the history here: It’s no surprise that the big hotel union that represents more than 50,000 workers on the Strip would be sticking the shiv in the side of UFC, which is owned by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who in turn own a controlling stake in Station Casinos.

Culinary has unsuccessfully been trying to unionize Station’s many valley casinos for years, with the fight intensifying in recent years, to include high-stakes federal litigation.

The unfitforchildren.org site is just the latest guerrilla tactic against the Fertittas. The UFC believes the union has used its political muscle in New York state to stop UFC from hosting fights in that highly lucrative market. The union recently called on the Federal Trade Commission to conduct an investigation of the UFC over what it claims are anti-competitive practices.

Station Casinos declined to comment for this column. I’ve done my best to present the company’s views.

We asked White what he thought of the Culinary’s latest attack.

He didn’t disappoint: “It’s gotten a lot worse. They are dragging me into it. They built a website about me. They are spending their union members’ dues on websites about me. Seriously? In this economy — especially as bad as Las Vegas is hurt — we have the biggest economic impact on Las Vegas, more than any other sport, which directly affects their members of the Culinary Union. They’re spending their hard-earned money on building a website about me. Are you kidding me? It’s the most asinine and disgusting thing I’ve seen in my life. It’s one of the things where people always talk about the union being a great idea until you see this dirty (expletive) they do behind the scenes, and they’re doing it with their people’s money. I’m sure there are a lot of positive things they can do with their members’ dues money other than attack the UFC.”

Let’s stipulate that D. Taylor, the longtime leader of one of the most successful union locals in the country, is better suited to decide how to use union resources than Dana White.

In fact, the Culinary has always used these tactics, often successfully. One would think that White would understand pressure points, and how to apply pressure to them. In its drive to organize workers, the union attacks not just the companies it views as anti-labor, but also board members and their companies, major shareholders, subsidiary companies, executives. You name it. Why? Because it’s effective.

White concluded: “They are just trying to make this thing look bad and trying to hurt the Fertittas by lobbying against the UFC and mixed martial arts.”

Correct.

And the Fertittas should certainly understand these tactics. They’ve used their own tough methods, whether dealing with the competition, their creditors or the Culinary Union.

Just this year, Station lobbied the Clark County Commission to essentially outlaw the business model of a pesky competitor — the little slot parlors called Dotty’s that compete with Station for local players. The Nevada Resort Association, at the urging of Station, argued that it merely asked the commission to respect the law that doesn’t allow slot parlors that lack the capital infusion or jobs of bigger resorts. The Nevada Gaming Commission followed suit. Bye-bye Dotty’s.

When the economy tanked and the Fertittas were faced with the loss of the company, they stared down their creditors and in exchange for $200 million they put back in the company, they reduced Station debt from around $6 billion to around $2 billion while maintaining operational control of the company.

The bankruptcy came soon after the Fertittas took the business private in a leveraged buyout, which is when you buy a company by borrowing money using its own assets as collateral.

As for its dealings with the union, the company is defending itself against accusations of dozens of federal labor law violations.

Friday, an administrative law judge issued a cease-and-desist order to Station and forwarded some 80 charges to a full three-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board. The judge dismissed a majority of the charges, including the most serious charge that the company was guilty of ethnic discrimination.

The still-alive allegations include interrogation and surveillance and the firing and disciplining of workers involved in the union drive.

Were supervisors acting unlawfully on their own or in a coordinated campaign? Who can say for sure?

The company issued a statement noting that the judge dismissed the charge of ethnic discrimination and called the remaining charges merely “technical,” while still disputing them. The case is part of the Culinary’s “ongoing campaign of harassment” of the company and its employees, the only purpose being to add to the union rolls and its coffers, Station says.

Back to Culinary and UFC: Does the union care about Dana White’s foul mouth? Of course not. But you can be disingenuous and still be in the right.

If not for the union, whatever is left of our tattered Las Vegas middle class would be gone. Just imagine what the wages of a hotel room attendant would be without the union.

Well, we don’t have to imagine. Our room attendants make 30 percent more than the national average, not including excellent health benefits secured by the Culinary.

Even our nonunion hotels — such as those operated by Station — pay decent wages and benefits because they have to compete with union hotels for the best workers. (In fact, before the recent unpleasantness, Station was on the list of Fortune Magazine’s Best 100 places to work.)

Now let’s presume we destroyed the Culinary and our room attendants made 30 percent less. That’s 30 percent less money going to grocery and clothing stores, soccer clubs — and slot machines at Station Casino properties.

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