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Culinary follies

The Culinary Union Local 226 admits it has no interest in trying to organize athletes who fight in the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, the successful mixed-martial-arts spectacular. Nor does the Culinary — once expected to be more concerned with the wages and working conditions of it members — usually spend a lot of time trying to enforce federal anti-trust law.

So why has the union asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the business practices of the sports franchise, contending the world’s largest promoter of mixed martial arts events is violating U.S. antitrust laws?

Could it be because Zuffa LLC, which operates the UFC, is majority-owned by Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta, the principals in Fertitta Gaming and operators of Station Casinos, which operates 18 casinos in the Las Vegas Valley? Station’s 13,000 employees are non-union.

“The Culinary obviously knows nothing about the fight business and this is aimed solely at the Fertittas,” UFC President Dana White said last week.

The Fertitta brothers paid $2 million for majority ownership in UFC in 2001. In 2008, Forbes magazine valued UFC at more than $1 billion.

In a Wednesday letter to the FTC, Culinary research director Ken Liu said Zuffa bought out four rivals to dominate professional mixed martial arts. The union cited a 2008 independent equities research firm estimate that UFC now controls 80 to 90 percent of its market.

And this hurts Culinary members … how?

“Every time we host one of our UFC events in Las Vegas, it brings $100 million of economic impact,” White said. “That benefits Culinary members. The Culinary is hurting their own members. They are taking their union dues and taking them to attack our company.”

The complaint to the commission is not the first time the Culinary has tried to cause trouble for what is likely the Fertittas’ biggest money-maker. Last spring the union’s affiliated New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council lobbied against legalizing mixed martial arts events in that state. The issue is still pending.

At the time, Mr. White called the union’s action “extortion.”

One thing is clear: It’s obvious the Culinary doesn’t care how absurd it looks in its campaign to give a hard time to the Fertittas and anyone remotely associated with them.

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