05/22/2005 11:00PM

NYRA fires 59 clerks after apparent strike


ELMONT, N.Y. - The New York Racing Association fired 59 mutuel clerks and suspended an additional 30 as the result of an apparent job action that took place Saturday at Belmont Park.

The 89 clerks called in sick on Saturday, leaving Belmont short-staffed on a day when the track hosted a live racing program and took the simulcast of the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico. A crowd of 9,221 was on hand, larger than a normal Saturday. NYRA's ontrack handle dropped only slightly, from $2,951,771 to $2,801,721.

The 59 clerks were fired "for their part in an illegal job action," said Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice president. According to terms of a current collective bargaining agreement, the mutuel clerks union must provide 15 days' notice to NYRA before any strike or job action can take place, NYRA officials said.

The 30 clerks who were suspended arrived to work by 2:04 p.m., post time for the third race. They were suspended without pay.

"The union came in late morning and called every clerk, and those who answered the call and came in and made the cut, we were willing to issue suspensions," Nader said.

NYRA and the mutuel clerks union have been trying to negotiate a new contract since the old one expired at the end of 2003.

Sal Zammitto, chairman of Division of Mutuel Employees union, told the New York Post over the weekend that the union "did not sanction any type of walkout or strike" on Saturday.

Nader said that while NYRA may be short-staffed for the coming week, "we continue to train hundreds of clerks. We want 800 clerks on the windows on Belmont Day," June 11. Last year, the union threatened to strike on Belmont Stakes Day, but didn't.

The relationship between NYRA and its mutuel clerks has been strained for months. NYRA was indicted and fined $3 million by the federal government on conspiracy and tax fraud charges. The indictment charged that NYRA officials had allowed mutuel clerks to cheat on their taxes for a decade.