Union: Labor deal averts strike before Belmont

June 6, 2012 - 4:20 PM
Belmont Stakes Horse Racing

Horses run through a morning fog as they round the fourth and final turn during training at Belmont Park, Wednesday, June 6, 2012 in Elmont, N.Y. The Belmont Stakes horse race is Saturday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

NEW YORK (AP) — Belmont racetrack workers have struck a labor deal with the New York Racing Association to head off a possible strike on the eve of a Triple Crown bid, the union and state officials said Wednesday.

Vincent McElroen, financial secretary for Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he didn't have specifics of the pact but that 80 maintenance workers and starters will be working Saturday.

"The race will go on with normal starters and normal maintenance crew represented by Local 3," he said.

I'll Have Another will try to become the 12th horse to win all three legs of the Triple Crown: The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. It's been 34 years since Affirmed became the last to capture the crown.

"Now, together, we can focus exclusively on this Saturday's Belmont Stakes and I'll Have Another's historic attempt to become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978," NYRA president and chief operating officer Ellen McClain said in a statement released by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.

The workers at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga tracks had been without a contract since February 2011. A mediator was called in to try to settle the dispute.

NYRA has weathered years of scandal and government investigations. Last month, its president was fired and the state took over its board. The racing overseer had called the union's strike threat self-serving and "very troubling" because it could have disrupted a race expected to draw about 100,000 fans to the track, plus a worldwide television audience in the millions.

Of the 150 workers IBEW represents, about 80 work at Belmont, including pari-mutuel clerks not involved in the dispute, McElroen said. Those who are involved include the starting gate workers, who get the horses into their assigned positions at post time.

The major issues were overtime and the structure of the tracks' work week. NYRA runs races Wednesday through Sunday, but the contract covers a Monday-through-Friday week, which means union workers earn built-in overtime on weekends. NYRA was seeking to immediately take away overtime for working Saturdays and Sundays, a move the union said would cut some workers' pay by 30 percent.

The agreement addresses all major economic issues, including shift schedules, benefits for active employees, as well as pension and retiree medical benefits. The contract runs through Feb. 28, 2014.

Last month, Cuomo took power away from NYRA, creating a temporary board to run racing for the next three years. The move came 18 days after NYRA fired its top executive, Charles Hayward, and its chief counsel as the state investigates why $8.5 million in winnings wasn't paid to bettors.