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Labor union's anti-UFC gripes, while perhaps valid, ring hollow

The same week as the Ultimate Fighting Championship has its second go at prime-time network television, the question has been brought up: Is the mixed martial arts promotion unfit for prime time?

That's not just the cautionary message but the very URL of a website -- yes, it's UnfitForPrimeTime.org -- that's putting a full-court press on Fox for giving MMA a prominent TV platform on Saturday (8 p.m. ET) with its telecast of UFC on Fox 2 in Chicago.

The online campaign centers not so much on the punching and kicking and arm twisting and neck throttling to which millions of viewers will be subjected. No, the focus here isn't on the fighting in the UFC but rather the talking.

The website boldly displays some disturbing quotes attributed to three of the four fighters in Saturday's two top-billed bouts. You've probably already heard or read Rashad Evans' out-of-place reference to the child molestation scandal at Penn State, which came spilling out of him at a press conference a few weeks ago as he was exchanging trash talk with Phil Davis, his opponent in the main event and a former Nittany Lion. Right below that on the Unfit web page is a foolhardy bit of homophobic vulgarity by Michael Bisping, and his opponent in the co-main event, Chael Sonnen, contributes some reckless oratory of violence. All in all, the rhetoric is revolting.

Even if you're not familiar enough with the UFC to understand that these crass comments are just the tip of the iceberg, you could understandably come away from the site thinking the MMA organization's initials stand for Unsavory Fighting Championship. Unruly. Uncensored. Unhinged. Maybe even Unpardonable or Unnecessary. If you happen to scroll down to the bottom of the web page, where visitors are urged to "tell Fox to drop the UFC," you might find yourself reflexively clicking on the link. At that point you're just a petition signature away from voicing your outrage.

The website's gripe with the UFC is the same as that of UnfitForChildren.org, a site decrying what it characterizes as the appalling influence the fight organization is having on our next generation. It's also the same argument made by those who are lobbying New York lawmakers to defeat proposed MMA sanctioning legislation. This is not a coincidence. Behind the two websites and the political push in the Empire State is a single organization.

A child-welfare agency? No. A gay-rights advocacy group? No. The outfit taking the UFC to task is not one whose mission is to protect kids or anyone else for whom the UFC is purportedly unfit. Behind this multifaceted effort is the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, in Las Vegas.

That's what makes this seemingly noble effort seem disingenuous. No one is denying that the rape jokes and other dreadful things that have spilled forth from the mouths and Twitter feeds of some UFC fighters are outrageous. It's obvious that promotion president Dana White -- who by the way is as guilty of inappropriate talk as anyone in his company -- has significant cleaning up to do. But do you really think the restaurant union gives a damn about what kind of foul language sullies the ears of America's young TV viewers? Heck, you could probably hear gum flapping no less enlightened if you were to walk through the kitchen of any eatery on the Strip in Sin City.

Why is the union getting involved, then? Self-interest, of course. The majority owners of the UFC, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, also own Station Casinos, one of the biggest non-union casino companies in Vegas. The Fertittas' company has long been doing battle with the Culinary Workers Union local, whose decade-long effort to organize workers in the casinos has not yet resulted in collective bargaining. This campaign smells like payback.

It's too bad, really. There's much going on within the UFC that should be fodder for discussion, if not debate. Is the fighting too brutal for prime-time TV? (Maybe so, but have you ever watched an NFL game or an episode of The Bachelor?) Should the fighters be given clear guidelines on conduct, with specific ramifications of misbehavior spelled out? (Most assuredly, but don't hold your breath with case-by-case Dana having appointed himself judge and jury.)

Those are serious questions that deserve to be addressed head-on.

The culinary workers would be better suited to take on the UFC in a venue where their union belongs: labor relations. In an ESPN interview that aired a week ago, as part of an Outside the Lines investigative piece on the fight promotion's pay structure, Lorenzo Fertitta was asked what he would think if his fighters were to unionize. "I'm not pro-union, I'm not against a union," said Fertitta. "If the fighters want to form a union, that's fine." Hearing that must have made workers in every Station casino choke.

Indeed, in its online story accompanying the TV report, ESPN cites a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge's finding last September that Station had engaged in unfair labor practices on more than 80 occasions. The story includes a telling comment from Ken Liu, research director for Culinary Workers Union local. "For us, there's an eerie parallel in how the Fertittas treat their workers at Station Casinos and how they treat fighters in the UFC," Liu told ESPN. "As a union, we have to continue to put pressure on this company from all conceivable directions."

That's a sensible strategy when the pressure relates to labor relations. But here we have the Culinary Workers Union feigning outrage over delicate social issues while in reality its indignation is driven by the almighty dollar. Hey, I have no problem with workers organizing in order to pressure an employer for fair wages and benefits. That's the American way. But when a union takes aim at the UFC while hiding behind children and gays, its campaign comes across as nothing more than a spitefully opportunistic sneak attack. Even when it's making some valid points.

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