06/20/2001 11:00PM

Jockeys' Guild fires its staff

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The executive committee of the Jockeys' Guild has fired the Guild's entire Lexington, Ky., office staff and its six regional directors as it undergoes a major restructuring aimed at winning health insurance for its members, Guild members said this week.

"They did the best jobs they could do with the problems we faced as an organization," said Pat Day, the president of the Guild, on Thursday, referring to the employees. "But we needed to make some decisions."

The Guild's entire staff was fired June 16, Day said, the same day that the executive committee announced that a California managment consulting team, Matrix Capital Associates, had been hired to run the organization on an interim basis.

Matrix is headed by Dr. L. Wayne Gertmenian, a well-connected professor of management at Pepperdine University's Graziado School of Business. Gertmenian was the chief detente negotiator in Russia and an emissary to Tehran during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

The Guild's side in the negotiations has been handled for the past 14 years by John Giovanni, the organization's former national secretary. Giovanni announced last Friday that he wished to retire, and the Guild accepted his resignation Saturday.

Robert Colton, a Delaware-based jockey on the Guild's executive committee, said Thursday that the Guild is restructuring to aggressively pursue additional insurance for its members and their families. Earlier this year, the Guild canceled a health insurance policy it provided for members' families because of a lack of funds.

Colton said that without insurance, jockeys would begin to seek legal recourse for serious injuries, which would seriously strain relations between riders, their employers, and racetracks.

"It is a serious issue that has to be addressed," Colton said. "There is no reason this industry cannot provide insurance for its jockeys. The door is open right now for lawsuits, and that door is immense. You're less likely to sue if you have insurance. If you don't, you start looking at the paper trail, and that leads you back to tracks, trainers, and owners."

The Guild's riders are currently covered by an insurance policy paid for by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, a racetrack trade group. Negotiations to secure the policy have been extremely contentious over the past decade, and rising insurance costs have put riders on the defensive. The current contract expires at the end of 2002.

Colton said Matrix would provide the Guild with its best opportunity to date to secure additional insurance.

"We needed to bring in a more educated team," Colton said. "We had a chance to bring these people in, and we're talking about a staff of 27, and not one of them has less than a graduate degree. They are going to bring a lot more to the table than anything we have ever had before."