California Jockeys, Guild Work on Health Insurance

Jockeys in California, concerned over the rising costs of insurance offered by the national Jockeys' Guild, are looking elsewhere for alternative coverage, though they're continuing talks with Guild management, several California jockeys confirmed Dec. 12.

Led by Northern California rider Joey Castro and retired jockey Ron Warren Jr., members of the California Jockeys' Guild--an independent non-profit entity founded in 2005--announced a decision to reorganize their own efforts following the Dec. 4 Jockeys' Guild annual assembly, at which a new insurance plan was unveiled by Guild officials.

"Some of the guys who attended the national meeting asked questions and weren't satisfied with the answers," said Warren, who initially formed the California Guild along with several other riders to protect California-based jockeys during the tenure of now-ousted national Guild manager Dr. Wayne Gertmenian. As of 2005, the California Guild had a membership of approximately 80 jockeys who ride full-time in the state.

"We started the California Guild when we were disappointed in the national management," Warren said. "Once they ousted Gertmenian, we felt that the national management was going in the right direction, but we're still concerned about insurance."

The national Jockeys' Guild is considering a proposal from Alliant Insurance Services that would allow it to offer insurance to about 800 members. The new monthly cost to riders would vary widely, ranging from $7 to about $800 depending on the type of plan selected and the state in which a jockey lives.

According to Warren, California jockeys would be faced with skyrocketing premiums under the new plan, with the cost of a family policy increasing from approximately $250 a month to about $600.

California jockeys currently enjoy among the most reasonable insurance rates in the nation because their coverage is subsidized by the state's uncashed-ticket fund. The jockeys' share of that fund, meant specifically for California riders' health and welfare benefits, amounts to about $1 million a year and is currently being paid to the national Guild in monthly installments from the California Horse Racing Board.

California is also one of only five states to provide workers' compensation to jockeys who are injured on the job.

"Our first objective is to get insurance for all of our members, and to get insurance at the best value," said national Guild manager Dwight Manley, who took the post in August. "I've only been doing this for the past four months, and I can tell you right now that the Guild does not have the resources to overcompensate or subsidize on insurance like it had in the past, and that's going to be the situation until (Thoroughbred Racing Associations) dollars are re-established--which we're working on very actively right now. In six or 12 months, we expect the jocks' contributions to insurance to go down."

TRA-member tracks in the past had contributed a combined $2.2 million a year to cover "media rights." The Guild used the funds to supplement health insurance for members. That money all but dried up when the Guild, under Gertmenian, was at odds with the industry.

"We don't think California riders should face an increase when the state is handing the national guild $1 million a year to pay health and welfare," Warren said. "We don't approve of the potential increase and we don't think it's fair to California riders."

While maintaining that California jockeys must receive fair treatment, Warren said his organization would be more than willing to negotiate with national Guild management to reach a plausible solution for all parties concerned.

"I haven't met Dwight Manley yet, so I won't pass any judgment on whether he's good or bad for the Guild until I hear his opinions," Warren said. "I'd love to find some kind of solution (with the national Guild), just as long as guys in California don't have to sacrifice their health and welfare and that of their families."

Manley also said California riders' concerns could be addressed.

"I've been in contact with the California riders and we're going to have meetings and get to where we need to go," Manley said. "The biggest thing that we need to do is work together to do what's best for the riders. I'll be very open with them and share things that we're planning; (they) seem very practical and I think our meetings will be productive."

Manley cautioned riders against leaving the Guild for greener pastures. During the annual assembly, he said the organization is developing programs in the area of sports marketing that could open new revenue streams.

"Just because jockeys want to switch or get something that sounds good to start with doesn't mean it's going to stay that way," he said, "(but) if you're out, you're out. You're not going to leave (the Guild) and come back a month later. There's a loyalty reward now."