Scramble on For Compromise in California

As an Aug. 31 deadline for legislative action neared, proponents of account wagering in California were busy trying to hammer out a compromise with union officials. Account wagering and the unionization of backstretch employees are linked through two separate pieces of legislation.

Though account wagering has widespread support in the racing industry, the unionization issue has been problematic. “There will be a major effort to defeat it when it hits the (Senate) floor,” said Bob Fox, lobbyist for the California Thoroughbred Trainers. Assembly Bill 2760 would pave the way for backstretch unionization and mandate that trainers submit payroll records to the state labor commissioner for annual audits. Another provision would require trainers to act as a group in collective bargaining with the proposed union.

State records indicate there are more that 800 licensed horse trainers in California. A union would benefit from consolidation as it would only have to negotiate for its workers with one entity.

Lobbyists for racetracks and the TV Games Network, which has a major stake in California should account wagering become legal under Assembly Bill 1405, have been shaking the bushes for support. TVG president and chief executive officer Mark Wilson said his company hasn’t taken a position on the unionization issue—it just wants a compromise.

“To get account wagering, some sort of agreement will have to be reached,” Wilson said Monday. “All we’re suggesting is that the affected parties get together quickly and work it out. Otherwise, we’ll lose the opportunity to have new revenue associated with home wagering. “We’re simply saying (unionization) is a horsemen’s issue, but let’s get the best deal we possibly can. Unions and account wagering are linked.”

Thoroughbred Owners of California president John Van de Kamp couldn’t be reached early Monday afternoon for comment.
The legislative push to regulate backstretch areas in California follows a series of published stories that alleged substandard living and working conditions in barn areas at California racetracks, Santa Anita Park and Fairplex Park in Southern California, and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California.

Due to procedural rules, it is unlikely the account wagering bill will be voted on before the unionization bill makes it to the Senate floor, officials said.

“We desperately need account wagering,” trainer Sandy Shulman said, “but as far as the other bill, I don’t see unions being the answer. The constant surveillance recently has been very good. It keeps everybody on the up-and-up, paying proper wages to the people who earn them.”