06/15/2013 3:04PM

NYRA hearing turned on ear by union members


ELMONT, N.Y. – A public hearing at Belmont Park on Saturday morning turned rowdy and raucous when union members, unhappy with the pace of contract negotiations, shouted down members of the New York Racing Association’s management team.

The forum, moderated by NYRA television analyst Andy Serling, was an opportunity for racing fans to open a dialogue with the operators of Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga. A crowd of more than 100 packed the Trustees’ Room on the second floor of the clubhouse.

At the start, Serling outlined four topics for discussion: the racing product, wagering, customer service, and marketing. Most of the questions during the two-hour session stuck to the format, but about 30 minutes in, the tone turned hostile.

It started with an accusation that NYRA had commissioned a $1 million mural while some employees struggle to survive.

“I am not aware of a million-dollar mural,” Vice President of Corporate Development David O’Rourke said. “There is a $250,000 mural. The employees are what make NYRA run. We couldn’t put on a show without them. They are essential to the fabric of this company. We also value the collective-bargaining process. We would love to have this discussion at the negotiating table.”

Serling struggled at that point to regain control of the proceedings by recognizing audience members with questions related to the four outlined topics. Every effort to shift the direction that way was shouted and hooted down.

“These are important questions, and we want to hear your answers,” said Julia Ryback, an official with the union representing the cleaners, program sellers, and security officers. “You represent this company, and you’re having a public forum, and your employees are on food stamps. This is the space you are providing, and these are the questions we wanted answered: why you don’t give your employees raises; why have taxpayers like me had to bail you guys out while you give NYRA executives raises?”

After about 30 minutes of shouting, the union members stormed out, and the forum continued.

The rest of the meeting covered a wide range of issues, including: the need for NYRA to expand its marketing efforts, customer-service problems on Belmont Stakes Day, concerns over the possible development of land parcels at Belmont for non-racing ventures, and the longstanding policy of charging for admission and programs.

One of the more interesting suggestions from the floor was the use of a split screen for NYRA’s telecasts. One fan suggested the single-pan camera for the stretch run becomes a problem when a winner draws clear by a wide margin. Bettors who play exactas, trifectas, and superfectas hold their breath, waiting for the next three finishers to pop onto the screen.

“This is something we need more feedback on,” Serling said. “There is a great deal of merit to what you suggest, but we need to have a discussion.”

O’Rourke said part of the solution will come this fall, when NYRA adds Trakus, the electronic system that instantly updates the running order.

◗ The Saratoga races will be shown live by Capital District Off-Track Betting’s television network for the first time later this summer, NYRA announced this week during a meeting of the NYRA Franchise Oversight Board. Previously, the races were shown there on a delayed basis.

Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
One fan suggested the single-pan camera for the stretch run becomes a problem when a winner draws clear by a wide margin. Bettors who play exactas, trifectas, and superfectas hold their breath, waiting for the next three finishers to pop onto the screen......Oh yeah that ones a pet peeve
T J Smith More than 1 year ago
It's just a long run of crap that continues to continue. Charlie Hayward stole money, never went before anyone to answer and was paid under the table to hand the tracks over to the State He insured the little puke Serling and The worst ever Fat PJ Campo to run the track and do so with the State watching. Serling has his tiny hands in everything at the track. Hayward still come to NYRA tracks to bet. How does that happen? And the DRF is in the pockets as well don't kid yourself
Jack Twee More than 1 year ago
Did anyone ask them when they would lower the takeout?
606 More than 1 year ago
“I am not aware of a million-dollar mural,” Vice President of Corporate Development David O’Rourke said. “There is a $250,000 mural..." This is really funny to hear from someone at an organization that is supposedly under strict oversight. This statement brought back memories of a company I worked for years ago that was caught dumping 30,000 gallons of untreated waste water a day. My boss, the company CEO, stood in front of a judge and angrily denied the charges: "That's not true! It's only 17,000 gallons a day." Oh, the memories. Thanks, NYRA. I'm sure it's a nice mural.
wolves More than 1 year ago
NYRA should commission a commission to investigate commissions.....they're as bad a the gubbermint...oh, i forgot, they be gubbermint
wolves More than 1 year ago
Why didn't the boot-licking pin-head Serling mention takeout?
Sal Carcia More than 1 year ago
The NYRA took an important step today in building a good relationship with their customer base. Now, it is even more important the NYRA officials get out there every day and interact with their customers at all levels at the track and online. From what I have read the customers have a lot of complaints about the overall customer experience and they express them quite often here and at the Paulick Report. The NYRA might not be able to fix everything, but the fans will most certainly appreciate it if they have a voice.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
NYRA did take a very important step that got overridden by Unions that in some cases may have grievances, but the Unions have to realize as well that without patrons, there are no jobs in the first place. This is not 1963 like some Unions seems to want to act like it still is (at least in my opinion).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well...it didn't take long for Pravda...I mean DRF...to take this story off the front page and bury it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It didn't take long for the communists...I mean, unions, to take the meeting out of the realm of productivity and bury it with disruptive behavior.
Sal Carcia More than 1 year ago
I am sorry, but even the DRF didn't want to give its customers top billing for too long. Well, as they use to say in my old industry: "This would be a lot more fun without the customers."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
only $250,000 for the mural...nice to know that NYRA has got its house in order
John Richardson More than 1 year ago
Tom is so right. Been to The Preakness for 15 straight years and you can always get a beer or drink with almost no line. First time at Belmont last week and the wait was almost 30 minutes or more. That is pathetic....literally they are losing $$$$ because it was so slow. The worst was trying to make a bet at a teller...forget it unless it was a simple WPS. Try to wheel a tri or even a pick 4....they had no clue......I went to mult tellers and none of them could handle anything but a straight bet.....pathetic....those folks shouldn't have been paid anything as they were worthless. I doubt I would show up if the trip crown was on the line as the crowd would be way too big for these amatuers to deal with. I go to toga every summer and that seems to run much differently.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
that is because NYRA fired most of the experienced union cashiers...they also got rid of the west indian food concession that had excellent food and service at a fair price
W.G. More than 1 year ago
NYRA was also probably short-staffed for Belmont Day because of the New York area getting 3 1/2" of rain the day before, likely flooding basements and causing some people who were supposed to work to be unable to come in due to the residual effects of the flooding that surprisingly had very little effect on the crowd. Had the backpack ban not been imposed, NYRA would likely have had 60-65,000 as the ban from all accounts appeared to keep 12-15,000 away due to the culture of people who make day trips into NYC, which is FAR DIFFERENT than anything at Churchill Downs/Louisville or Pimlico/Baltimore. There were posts on NYRA's Facebook page and elsewhere of people who didn't go solely because of the ban (though necessary for this year because of the jitters many still have after Boston), and it's something that needs to be re-evaluated with a balance made between those who do use backpacks for traveling on day trips to places like Belmont Park and the needs for security (perhaps a separate line strictly for backpacks with perhaps those with such subject to TWO security checks before being let in), especially since a backpack ban will NEVER stop a terrorist other than the very most amateur from pulling off an attack as we have seen time and again over the past decade.