06/02/2004 11:00PM

NYRA mutuel tellers hint at strike for Belmont


ELMONT, N.Y. - The president of the union representing Belmont Park's mutuel clerks said on Thursday afternoon that mutuel tellers are considering a strike on Saturday, the day of the Belmont Stakes, because of dissatisfaction over recent negotiations with NYRA on a new contract.

Nick Bancalari, the president of Local Union 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said that NYRA's latest offer, delivered on Wednesday during face-to-face negotiations, was "insulting." He said that the union's seven-member advisory board would make the final decision on whether to recommend a strike for Saturday, but he would not say when or if the advisory board would meet before the Belmont.

"We're always willing to negotiate," Bancalari said. "We gave them what we thought was a fair offer, and they come back with this, this Mickey Mouse offer."

Jim Gallagher, Belmont Park's vice president of regulatory compliance, said on Thursday afternoon that union members had given no indication of striking when negotiations broke off on Wednesday.

"We are still in negotiations with the union," Gallagher said Thursday. "We are not at an impasse. We've made headway. The Belmont Stakes will go on and it's going to be a great, record-setting day."

Gallagher said that the union and NYRA have scheduled another negotiating session for Tuesday, three days after the Belmont.

The union's prior contract expired on Dec. 31, 2003. Negotiations have gone on steadily since then, but they have been complicated by the indictment last year of the New York Racing Association on conspiracy and tax fraud charges. The indictment charged that NYRA officials had allowed mutuel clerks to cheat on their taxes for a decade.

Bancalari called NYRA's latest offer a "vendetta" against mutuel tellers. One-hundred and 50 mutuel tellers are in the union, Bancalari said.

"They think we're the ones that gave them the black eye," Bancalari said. "We're not under indictment. NYRA is under indictment. The union is not under indictment."

A total of 21 mutuel tellers have been indicted over the past three years on tax fraud and money-laundering charges, and 20 have been convicted. Two NYRA officials have been indicted and have entered guilty pleas to having knowledge of the tax-fraud schemes.