Unionization Bill Opposed in California

Legislation that could lead to unionization of backstretch workers in California is being opposed by a unified group of leaders within the state's horse racing industry, according to the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper reported that the industry had begun an intensive lobbying effort against an Assembly bill that was scheduled for consideration Monday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Bob Fox, lobbyist for the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said there would be a major effort to defeat the legislation on the Senate floor if it makes it out of committee.

The Times said trainers are dissatisfied with a provision in the bill that would force them to form a single employer group to bargain collectively with unions. The newspaper said the unions believe it would be overwhelming to try to bargain individually with the more than 800 trainers in the state.

The legislation is part of an effort to improve backstretch conditions at California tracks after the Times published a series of articles showing apparent substandard living conditions. Labor inspectors made surprise visits to four tracks in June, reporting violations of overtime, minimum wage, and record-keeping laws, according to the Times.

The Times reported that the bill's co-authors--Assemblymen Herb Wesson, Darrell Steinberg, and Alan Lowenthal, all Democrats--plan to push the legislation through, even without horse industry support.

"I want to be sensitive to the fact that they operated for years totally different than every other industry," Wesson said. "It will take a little more time and little more education."

The Times said the state's tracks support effort to clean up the backstretch areas and to improve conditions for stable personnel. The Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Association of Thoroughbred Racetracks oppose the bill because it would impose the union upon them and because there are no provisions to determine if the workers want the union representation.