Mutuel Clerks on Strike at Woodbine

Mutuel clerks at Woodbine went on strike Wednesday evening after their 600-member union, the independent Canadian Racetrack Workers Union, voted against the latest contract proposal offered by Woodbine Entertainment Group.

"The majority of the members of the mutuel clerks union have voted to maintain the strike," said Brian Lawrence, vice-president of teamsters Local 419. which is aligned with CRWU.
The main issues for the union are the minimum requirements for maintaining seniority for full-time staff and scheduling with regards to the number of hours each clerk's shift entails. Another point of contention is how many shifts clerks get in the high season (Thoroughbred) and in the winter off-season.

Picketers positioned themselves at all entrances of the Rexdale, Ontario track at 11:30 a.m. Thursday and plan to strengthen the picket lines as Queen's Plate day, June 25, draws closer.
A crowd of 20-25,000 is expected for the Plate, Canada's most famous horse race.

It would not be the first time that a major racing event at Woodbine was threatened by a labor dispute.

Woodbine locked out its mutuel clerks in October 1996 just days before the Breeders' Cup World Championships was about to make its debut in Canada.

That labor dispute, in which picketers and customers were constantly at odds on streets around the track, was resolved in time for the Cup to be held.

But these days, the big horse racing event, in this case the 147th Queen's Plate, is more of a nuisance to the union than a target.

Now it's the slots business that shares the building with the racing that will be threatened by picket lines.

"A strike will systematically affect the slots business," said Henderson, whose union is aligned with the Teamsters, having left the Service Employer's International Union Dec. 1, 2005.

The mutuel clerks' contract with Woodbine expired Dec. 31 and Henderson says the union has had some 20 meetings with Woodbine since negotiations began Feb. 1.

"I think it would be fair to say that Woodbine has been stalling with us until after the Plate, but we finally had to draw the line."

Henderson's union has actually been in a position to strike since June 10, but declined to strike at that time.

Jane Holmes, vice-president of corporate affairs for WEG, said the Woodbine offer was "very fair" but said it will be "business as usual" and that "we hope the customers aren't inconvenienced."

"We are not locking anyone out, we encourage the clerks to come to work," said Holmes.