Belmont workers' strike averted leading up to third Triple Crown race

 I'll Have Another, left, has one two races in the run for the Triple Crown.

Story highlights

  • I'll Have Another tries for Triple Crown at Belmont on Saturday
  • Strike threatened to derail the race
  • Workers, management have been fighting over contract since 2010
A workers strike at Belmont Park racetrack has been averted just in time for the track to host I'll Have Another's attempt at the Triple Crown title on Saturday.
The New York Racing Association and the union that represents more than 80 of the Long Island, New York, racetrack's maintenance workers and starters reached a tentative agreement over a years-long labor dispute on Wednesday, according to Vincent McElroen, financial secretary of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 union.
"We're happy we came to an agreement," he said. "The guys will be putting the horses in the gate this weekend."
The workers, who take care of the grounds and racetrack at Belmont in addition to putting the horses in the gate, have been embroiled in a contract dispute with the New York Racing Association over wages and employee contributions to health care costs since 2010, McElroen said.
The union voted to authorize a strike more than a week ago, meaning a strike could have coincided with this weekend's much anticipated Belmont Stakes.
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New York Racing Association officials expect more than 100,000 people will come to watch I'll Have Another, the 3-year-old colt who claimed victory at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes this year, make a run for the Triple Crown.
It would be the first Triple Crown victory in 34 years. Since 1990, only seven horses have won the first two legs of the title.
Racing association officials issued a statement on Monday night calling the potential strike "extremely self-serving," alleging that the union was using "the attention and excitement of a Triple Crown attempt to further its own agenda."
McElroen said the timing of the potential strike had nothing to do with the Belmont Stakes.
"You want an agreement," he said. "We weren't looking to have a strike or a work stoppage."
McElroen would not comment on the specifics of the agreement, but said on Tuesday that the labor dispute revolved around the definition of a workweek.
In their former contract, which ended after a yearlong extension in early 2011, workers were paid overtime on weekends, McElroen said. But in 2012, the racing association changed the workweek to reflect Belmont's Wednesday through Sunday race schedule, eliminating weekend overtime pay.
"This change resulted in a drastic reduction in their take-home pay," McElroen added.
Workers at Belmont also had to start paying into their health insurance benefits and were no longer given retiree medical benefits, he said.
In its original statement, New York Racing Association officials responded that "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 racetrack operates."
Racing association officials did not immediately respond to calls for comment.