06/26/2001 11:00PM

California legislation rewritten

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Legislation that would establish a system to unionize backstretch workers in California has undergone significant revisions in the last week and is expected to be introduced in the state Senate next week.

The new version of the bill also includes language that allows telephone betting in California, which racetrack executives have lobbied for in recent years.

The new bill sets up a different method for backstretch workers to decide whether they want a union. According to Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the new legislation calls for elections and not the less-regulated card-check procedure to be used to determine whether stables join a union. The card check method was opposed by the trainer's organization.

"It's like signing a petition at a mall as opposed to a [normal] election," Halpern said, comparing the two methods.

Under the revised language, unions would have to obtain signatures from 30 percent of backstretch workers before an election could take place. Unions and employers would be allowed to campaign to present their sides of the argument.

The language was discussed last Sunday during a telephone conference call between Halpern; Craig Fravel of Del Mar; Don Robbins, the former Hollywood Park president who is a racing consultant; and officials from the Service Employees International Union, which would organize the backstretch workers.

Last year, a labor and telephone betting bill passed the Legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis. Davis said he supported efforts to organize backstretch workers, but opposed the telephone betting, saying he did not want an expansion of gambling.

Recently, a different labor bill that doesn't include a phone betting provision, passed the state Assembly, but is on hold, pending the status of the Senate version.