12/20/2006 12:00AM

Philadelphia jockeys look to join union

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Jockeys at Philadelphia Park in Pennsylvania have petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to be allowed to join the International Union of Journeyman Allied Trades, a labor union with 70,000 members.

The union drive is being led by Anthony Black, the long-time leading rider at Philadelphia Park. Black, who is currently injured, said that he began the drive after negotiations with Philadelphia Park over increased ontrack accident coverage were unsuccessful. Thirty riders signed cards indicating that they wanted to join the union, Black said.

The petition, which will be heard by the Labor Board at an unscheduled hearing within the next 60 days, will likely hinge on whether the board believes that jockeys qualify for union membership. Under federal labor laws, independent contractors are typically disqualified from joining a union or engaging in collective bargaining.

"The blacksmiths here are part of the IUJAT, and they work similar to us," Black said. 'They get paid by owners, and they work as independent contractors."

The union drive has drawn the concern of the Jockeys' Guild, the national organization that represents riders and provides for health insurance for many jockeys. Dwight Manley, the national manager of the guild, said on Tuesday that regional representatives met with riders at Philadelphia Park over the past several days to discuss the union petition and talk up the benefits of their guild memberships.

"We're not sure all the jockeys really want to join," Manley said. "There's probably only 10 or 12 out there that really understand what it means."

Black has been an outspoken critic of the Jockeys' Guild, and he said Wednesday that the guild has "done a lot of wrong over the past five or six years by us riders." Manley took over the guild last year after the guild's board ousted its former chief executive, L. Wayne Gertmenian, amid allegations of financial mismanagement.

Philadelphia Park currently carries $100,000 in ontrack catastrophic injury insurance. Over the past three years, as racetracks realized that the guild had cancelled its own policy covering jockeys for up to $1 million in medical bills, many racetracks have increased that amount of $1 million.

Philadelphia Park officials, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, have said in the past that the track has no obligation to provide increased insurance coverage for jockeys.