Push to Unionize Workers Faces Opposition

Opposition to a bill that would unionize backstretch workers in California is growing as it makes its way through the state Senate.

“There will be a major effort to defeat it when it hits the floor,” said Bob Fox, lobbyist for the California Thoroughbred Trainers.

The legislation 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.

“That would be the worst thing that would happen on the backstretch here,” California trainer Sandy Shulman said. “A union would crush the backside. The little guys would go out of business.”

Trainer Leonard Duncan agreed. “I’d really hate to see that happen,” he said. “It would ruin a lot of us.”

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.

The state Senate will continue its hearings on the bill through the end of August and early September, officials said.

In part, the bill is tied to the fate of account wagering in the state. A separate bill that would legalize account wagering in California is languishing in the state Senate. 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,” 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.”