In a continuing effort to increase catastrophic on-track accident insurance for riders, Philadelphia Park Jockeys has taken the unprecedented step of affiliating itself with a labor union to help resolve the issue.
Philadelphia Park Jockeys president and longtime rider Anthony Black said Dec. 13 the decision to join the International Union of Journeyman Allied Trades was necessary because of the lack of progress over the past eight months.
Philadelphia Park currently offers jockeys only $100,000 in catastrophic on-track accident insurance coverage, believed to be the lowest of any major racetrack in the country.
Philadelphia Park Jockeys is asking for a $1-million minimum policy similar to those at tracks around the country.
"We are at an absolute deadlock with management," said Black, the Bensalem Township, Pa.-based racetrack's all-time leading rider who continues to recover from an on-track accident suffered in November.
"This step hasn't been taken before that I know of, but it was worth investigating. It still might not help, but we wanted to explore the possibility of jockeys belonging to a union. We can't resolve the issue, so we had to take another step.
"This is a 70,000-person strong union that also represents the Philadelphia blacksmiths. We hope that they can help us get what we deserve."
The IUJAT was established in 1874 and is one of the oldest labor organizations in the United States. Based out of New York, IUJAT has a special chapter set up just for the equine trade, though it has never represented jockeys before.
"We are putting in a petition on the jockeys' behalf," said Gloria Lorrando, president of IUJAT local 947. "One of disputes is whether or not jockeys are considered independent contractors. Our contention is that they are acting as an employee of the racetrack.
"We'd like to do everything we can to help the jockeys get what they deserve. They sacrifice a lot and are at high risk, but do not receive the recognition they deserve by the industry.
"There are many things that they are entitled to, not just (additional insurance) coverage. They work at the track and are paid from the purses by the owners. Right now, we have a telephone conference set up between our union, track management, and the (Pennsylvania) labor board for sometime in January."
Black also said having union representation now gives Philadelphia Park Jockeys additional rights, and while he stopped short of saying the jockeys would ever strike, he acknowledged they could now legally do so.
"The union would increase our bargaining power," Black said. "It's another bargaining chip we can use. As part of only a guild, it is in violation of anti-trust laws to walk out. We can be sued as individuals. We now have something else we can use."
Hal Handel, chief executive officer at Philly Park, confirmed he had been notified by the IUJAT about the jockey representation. However, he didn't seem overly concerned about the course of action. Track management has stood firm on its position that an increase in catastrophic insurance coverage is not their responsibility.
"We did receive a legal notice," said Handel, who also confirmed Philly Park still plans to open its slot-machine parlor Dec. 20. "We forwarded it to the labor council. Other than that, I have no comment.
"We are not their employer. We made an offer, and they rejected it. Our suggestion is that they might find a friendlier reception in (the state capital of) Harrisburg if they apply for workers' compensation. It might be a better solution for them. I am a bit mystified by what they are doing, but I wouldn't say it's a major concern to us."
The Philly Park riders also have the national Jockeys' Guild in their corner. On Dec. 1, Guild national manager Dwight Manley sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board asking it to consider the insurance situation at Philly Park before it grants the racetrack a permanent license to operate slots. But according to Melinda Tucker, director of racetrack gaming for the board, it's unlikely the board would intervene.
"The position of the gaming control board is that we have no jurisdiction over the regulations of the racetrack end of the facilities," Tucker said.