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Belmont strike seems averted

Belmont Park workers have struck a tentative labor deal with the New York Racing Association to head off a possible strike on the eve of a Triple Crown bid, a union official said June 6.

Vincent McElroen, financial secretary for Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he didn't have specifics of the pact but that 80 maintenance workers and gate crew personnel will be working during the June 9 Belmont Stakes in which I'll Have Another will be attempting to become racing's 12th Tripe Crown winner.

"We have a tentative agreement," McElroen said. "The race will go on with normal starters and normal maintenance crew represented by Local 3."

A NYRA spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The workers at Belmont Park, Aqueduct, and Saratoga tracks have been without a contract since February 2011. A mediator was called in to try to settle the dispute.

NYRA has weathered years of scandal and government investigations. Last month, its president was fired and the state took over its board. The racing overseer had called the union's strike threat self-serving and "very troubling" because it could have disrupted a race expected to draw about 100,000 fans to the track, plus a worldwide television audience in the millions.

Of the 150 workers IBEW represents, about 80 work at Belmont, including pari-mutuel clerks not involved in the dispute, McElroen said. Those who are involved include the starting gate workers, who get the horses into their assigned positions at post time.

The major issues were overtime and the structure of the tracks' work week. NYRA runs races Wednesday through Sunday, but the contract covers a Monday-through-Friday week, which means union workers earn built-in overtime on weekends. NYRA was seeking to immediately take away overtime for working Saturdays and Sundays, a move the union said would cut some workers' pay by 30%.

Last month, Cuomo took power away from NYRA, creating a temporary board to run racing for the next three years. The move came 18 days after NYRA fired its top executive, Charles Hayward, and its chief counsel as the state investigates why $8.5 million in winnings wasn't paid to bettors.