NYRA Fires 59 Clerks; Suspends 30 Others

The New York Racing Association fired 59 mutuel clerks and suspended 30 others as the result of an apparent job action that occurred May 21 at Belmont Park.

A total of 89 clerks called in sick, leaving the track short-staffed of mutuel clerks on a day when Belmont was hosting a live race card as well as showing the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) via simulcast. The track had an on-track crowd of 9,221. The handle dropped slightly from $2,951,771 last year to $2,801,721.

Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice president, said the 59 clerks were fired for their part in an illegal "sick out." Terms of the current collective bargaining agreement require mutuel clerks to provide 15 days notice to NYRA before any strike or job action can occur.

Sal Zammitto, chairman of Division of Mutuel Employees union, told the New York Post the union "did not sanction any type of walkout or strike" on Saturday.

"The union came in Saturday morning and called every clerk, and those who responded to the call and came into work were suspended and those who did not were terminated," Nader said.

NYRA set a deadline of 2:04 p.m., post time for the third race, as the cutoff for clerks to arrive for work. Those who showed up for work were suspended five days without pay and are scheduled to return to work May 29.

"This was really unfortunate in every way," Nader said. "It was unfortunate for fans who came out for Preakness Day, because we had a pretty good on-track crowd. It was really unfortunate for the clerks to do that and risk losing their jobs. It was disappointing on all counts."

Nader said NYRA is not expecting a similar action to occur on Belmont Stakes (gr. I) day June 11. "We're training clerks as we always do and plan to have 800 clerks on the windows on Belmont day."

In addition to disrupting service, the job action also disrupted contract negotiations between NYRA and the mutuel clerks union, Nader said. The current contract between the two expired in 2003 and NYRA and the mutuel clerks union have been in the process of negotiating a new one.