Updated on 06/04/2012 8:31PM

Union representing NYRA maintenance workers authorizes strike

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ELMONT, N.Y. – The union representing approximately 130 to 150 maintenance crew workers for the New York Racing Association – including the starting gate crew – has authorized a strike that could impact Saturday’s Belmont Stakes in which I’ll Have Another will attempt to win the Triple Crown.

The members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 voted recently to authorize a strike at the three NYRA tracks, although no date was selected for that strike to begin, according to Vincent McElroen, financial secretary for the IBEW.

Asked if that strike could come Saturday, McElroen said, “I couldn’t tell you anything at this point in time. Could you tell me if we’re going to have a fast track or a muddy track? Are we going to have a Triple Crown winner?”

McElroen said his union has been working without a contract since February 2011. The union agreed to a one-year extension, but since this past February negotiations with NYRA have not resulted in a new contract.

McElroen claims NYRA is seeking a 30 percent reduction in wages and benefits from the union. McElroen said NYRA is seeking to cut off health benefits for workers upon their retirement. Currently, retired workers receive health benefits.

The union is planning a demonstration outside the main gate at Belmont Park at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“Since February 2011, we’ve been negotiating with them, and they’re not moving at all,” McElroen said. “They’re insistent that it’s their way or the highway. This rally is to bring to the public’s attention to what’s going on.”

In a Monday night release, NYRA claims it has been negotiating in good faith since February 2010 and called Local 3 “self-serving … to use the attention and excitement of a Triple Crown attempt to further its own agenda.”

NYRA claims that its retiree medical benefit liability nearly doubled the past three years from $61 million in 2008 to $121 million in 2011.
“NYRA must address this extraordinary obligation to secure the long term financial health of the company, which directly employs 1,300 employees and supports tens of thousands and jobs throughout the state,” the release said.

NYRA also claims that Local 3 members “receive benefits far richer than NYRA’s non-union employees and most state, municipal, and private-sector employees. Local 3 is unwilling to pay a reasonable share of the cost to provide these benefits and they refuse to work with us to create shifts that reflect the reality of how a race track operates.”