What appeared to be a surething, a strike today by the employees' union at Bowie, was averted late yesterday afternoon.
Representatives of Local 692, Retail Store Employees Union, met with executives from Bowie, Laurel and Pimlico in the office of the federal mediator in Baltimore, and that session produced the following statement:
"Following a meeting today with James Williams of the Federal Mediation Agency and Maryland Labor Commissioner Harvey Epstein, the parties have agreed to continue negotiations without an immediate work stoppage. The parties will negotiate on Friday at the request of the mediators. There will be racing at Bowie Thursday, Friday and Saturday."
"That's a 100-to-1 shot that's come." a Bowie spokesman observed. Al Akman, president of the local, agreed.
The track had prepared the public for a strike today, including a release by general manager Al Karwacki that began, "It is regrettable that Bowie must close its gates . . ." Other steps had been initiated by the Bowie management to trim the work force in various departments.
The union voted, 430 to 33, Tuesday night in Baltimore to strike Bowie today. Early yesterday afternoon, Akman said, "As of right now, everything is go for the strike. I am meeting with Williams. I respect him. I don't sell him short. But I don't know how hard he'll shoot so we're expecting to go out."
Williams apparently shot hard, or at least convincingly because, three hours later, Akman said:
"We talked contract where we were together and where we were apart. There was no movement as such, in our negotiations, but I'm now ready to believe I can expect honest talk at the table.
"The mediator is a seasoned one. Of course, if I'm wrong, everything could go down tougher. I still have all my options open. We can always strike another day."
The tracks have offered union members pay increases of $2.50 and $1.25 (a day) over a two-year contract. Akman terms the proposal totally unacceptable, adding, "Our guys have the world's worst health and welfare provisions. The fringe benefits are pathetic, and the wages don't begin to compare with those in New York or New Jersey."
Mutuel clerks in Maryland receive from $49 a day. Their median pay is $42. Admission workers earn $30.50 a day to start, while men on the starting gate get a minimum of $47.50. Members of the parking crews, the security guards and jockey valets also are in the local.
The key problem, according to Akman, is health and welfare. Union members have single coverage but none for their dependents. They also want better maternity benefits, paid holidays and vacation time.
"The union asked for a Cadillac. We could afford a Volkswagen, then agreed to give them a Chevrolet," a track executive declared.
Horsemen would lose nearly $60,000 in purses each day in a strike. The state would lose approximately $30,000 daily as its share of the tax on wagering.
Bettors at Bowie may be intrigued by one fact concerning today's activities. Looms Boy, one of the favorites in the second race, is owned by Akman.
"I can't win today, no matter what he does," the labor leader acknowledged. "My horses haven't won since November. Just as sure as one wins Thursday, somebody is goint to say I delayed the strike long enough to collecta purse."