06/02/2006 11:00PM

Ruling costly to NYRA

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An arbitrator's ruling in favor of dozens of mutuel clerks could cost the New York Racing Association approximately $2 million in back wages, according to NYRA's president, Charles Hayward.

NYRA fired 59 mutuel clerks last May after 89 clerks did not report to work on time at Belmont Park on May 21, 2005, a day that attracted 9,129 in part to watch the simulcast of the Preakness from Pimlico. Thirty clerks reported to work by 2 p.m. that day, thus avoiding termination. Those clerks were suspended five days without pay.

NYRA said at the time that it was within its rights to terminate the clerks because track officials termed what the clerks did an illegal job action. According to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement in place at the time, the union had to provide 15 days' notice to NYRA before any strike or job action could take place.

At the time, the union denied staging any organized job action.

"Our position was it was an unauthorized walkout," Hayward said. "We thought our case was pretty straightforward. Remarkably, the arbitrator saw it another way, which just baffled us. The whole situation was disappointing and surprising."

According to Hayward, not all 59 of the terminated clerks would benefit from the arbitrator's ruling. Hayward said five of the clerks did not appear at a hearing on their own behalf and remain terminated. Hayward said an additional seven individuals took their jobs back in a settlement offer and are not eligible for retroactive pay.