Meyocks Offers to Meet With CDI Executives

Release from Jockeys' Guild counters statements from CDI general counsel.

A dispute between the Jockeys’ Guild and Churchill Downs Inc. over a contract continued Dec. 7, with guild national general manager Terry Meyocks offering to meet with CDI representatives “any time and any place” to resolve the impasse.

Also, Meyocks said he would recommend to the guild that it open its books to an independent audit to show how it spends its money and the sources of the guild's funding.

“We are certainly willing to talk with CDI executives about any concerns they may have. We’ve been asking to meet with them since April,” Meyock said in a release that came a day after CDI’s general counsel issued a lengthy statement offering the racetrack operating company’s side of the issue.

Earlier this year, CDI said it is dropping its share of the annual contribution to the riders’ insurance fund. CDI operates four tracks—the flagship Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Calder Casino & Race Course in Florida, Illinois’ Arlington Park, and Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in Louisiana. The contract expires at the end of 2011.

In the statement, Alan K. Tse, executive vice president and general counsel for CDI, said CDI believes the guild has violated the terms of the agreement under which the tracks have been making payments to the guild that total $330,000 annually. Related story

“We’ve asked the Guild to explain how it spends the money we contribute, including what direct benefits it purchases for jockeys and the actual cost of those benefits," Tse said. “And we’ve asked for data to confirm that we have not been paying more than any other track. We have received no answers.

“We will not renew an agreement with the Guild under these terms and have told them so. Contrary to their claims, we will resume talking with Guild management, provided they answer our very legitimate questions.”

In the guild’s release, Meyocks said he “believes in openness and is more than willing to provide CDI with details if they really want to work toward a solution.”

Meyocks said he had been attempting to meet  with CDI officials since being informed in August that the company was not going to renew the contract.

“We tried repeatedly to get CDI back to the table, but they said they would not meet,” said Meyocks. “In fact, Churchill’s President and COO Bill Carstanjen told me personally that CDI did not intend to contribute, the decision was final and would not change. So while they claim now that they want to talk, I’m certainly willing, but obviously skeptical.

“If CDI is serious about wanting to talk, I will immediately recommend to the Jockeys’ Guild board of directors that we open our books to an independent financial audit to show exactly how our money is spent and where it comes from,” he said. “The Guild believes in total transparency. At the same time, we’d like to know where CDI has spent the $2.4 million per year it claims to spend on safety issues.”

Meyocks said CDI is correct in its contention that not all tracks contribute to the guild, but noted “an overwhelming number of the largest and midsized tracks have contributed to the Guild, all at the same rates as their counterparts. That includes all of the tracks classified as ‘A’ tracks by the Thoroughbred Racing Association, and the majority of the midsized tracks.”

Meyocks said the guild intends to work toward funding from the smaller tracks that are not making contributions to the Guild to increase participation. He noted that CDI’s recent earnings reports shows that the company could afford to make the contribution.

According to the guild it has paid out more than $4.1 million in benefits since 2007. It also said that based on guild statistics from 2010, approximately one in five jockeys was injured badly enough that he or she was unable to ride, at least temporarily.

Meyocks says CDI’s questioning of whether tracks should be making the payments since jockeys are independent contractors not employed by the tracks “ignores the reality of the job. It’s unbelievable to think that CDI suddenly wants to ‘reinvent the wheel’ after 40-plus years, and now doesn’t believe it has any responsibility to jockeys. Jockeys have an incredibly risky job. And in contrast, not one CDI executive has an ambulance following them on the job. Jockeys don’t have the safety net that the CDI executives or many other people have at their jobs. With a median annual income of just $38,000, many of our member jockeys simply would not be able to afford the kind of insurance coverage that is needed.

“Jockeys literally risk their lives every day on the track, and they deserve whatever measures we can employ to take care of them and their families in case of life-altering injuries or even death. While CDI looks at the spreadsheet, we look at the human stories of the recently injured jockeys such as Jorge Chavez and Jacky Martin. We feel a responsibility to those disabled jockeys, such as Ron Turcotte, Gary Birzer, Michael Martinez, Michael Straight, Tad Leggett and others. We cannot forget those who lost their lives while riding, such as Mark Villa who left a wife and young twins. That’s why we remain willing to meet with (CDI president) Bill Carstanjen at any time and at any place, assuming he’s serious about working with us. Our ultimate responsibility is to help active riders who get hurt. We have worked to educate the industry, the regulators, legislators and others, and will continue to do so.”