05/20/2005 11:00PM

Belmont mutuel clerks call in sick Preakness Day


Approximately 80 of 200 mutuel clerks scheduled to work at Belmont Park on Saturday called in sick as part of an apparent job action.

The mutuel clerks are working under a collective bargaining agreement with the New York Racing Association. NYRA and the mutuel clerks have been operating under the terms of an agreement that expired at the end of 2003.

Charles Hayward, NYRA's president and CEO, said management was "shocked" that the mutuel clerks staged the action.

"Despite assurances to the contrary, approximately 80 parimutuel clerks called in sick," Hayward said. "Under the terms of our relevant collective bargaining agreement, any strike or job action requires 15 days notice. This is a blatant and illegal action to embarrass NYRA on an important race day."

A larger crowd than typical for a Saturday was expected because of the simulcast of the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, from Pimlico Race Course. The shortage of mutuel clerks was evident in lines that stretched 10 to 15 people deep on the second floor of the clubhouse early in the day. As a result, more fans than usual flocked to the self-automated betting machines.

Belmont will host a much larger crowd on June 11, Belmont Stakes Day.

According to Hayward, NYRA had agreed to salary increases for the mutuel clerks that were higher than those offered to any other group of NYRA employees. The increases included retroactive back pay.

"The parties have been operating under the terms of the prior agreement and conducting good-faith negotiations that were near conclusion," Hayward said.

Hayward declined to comment on the ramifications of the job action, if any, on future negotiations.