Today's racing program at Bowie has been canceled because of a Friday midnight stroke called by local 692 of the Retail Store Employees Union.
"I would think it would last till June," declared Al Akman, president of the local, who added: "I gave them as reasonable a proposal as anyone could."
"Their demands are exorbitant," said Al Karwacki, Bowie's general manager. "We offered them a Volkeswagen, when a Chevy, then a Pontiac . . . and they're still looking for, a Cadillac, which they're not going to get. They said, 'Please, don't nickel - and dime us.' We didn't. We've made our best offer."
"There's not much we can do," remarked James Williams, commissioner of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. No date has been set for negotiations to resume.
Union members voted 432,33, March 1 to strike Bowie March 3. That action was delayed by the local's leaders at the request of federal and state mediators. The union met several times with representatives of Bowie, Pimlico and Laurel during the next week but negotiations broke off late Thursday afternoon.
If Akman's prediction for a long strike proves accurate - a prospect not considered likely by most observers - the Pimlico meeting and the Preakness would be affected. Pimlico, located in Baltimore, is scheduled to open for 60 days starting March 21. The Preakness Stakes, second event in thoroughbred racing's Tripple Crown's series for 3-year-olds, is scheduled May 21 at Pimlico, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby.
Bowie was scheduled to close March 19 with the running of the $100,000 added John B. Campbell.
Approximately 550 members of the employees' union are involved in the strike. They work in the mutuals, admission parking security and program departments, and with the starting gate crew and as valets in the jockeys' room.
The union turned down management's offer of $2.50 and $1.25 (a day) pay increases over two years when the strike vote was taken. Management says it has increased its pay package substantially since then, and reportedly plans to issue a "fact sheet" concerning the negotiations today.
Improved health and welfare benefits are vital to any settlement, the union insists. The workers are seeking hospitalization insurance for their dependants and improvements in their six-pay benefits. They received $30 a day, after the eight day of illness, under the old contract with expired Dec. 31.
"These guys," Akman insists, "have the world's worst coverage. Their fringe benefits are pathetic, and their wages don't compare with those in New York and New Jersey.
"Be prepared to be out for a while," Akman warned the union members. "It will not be a one or two-day affair. You'll be out long enough you won't remember what day (of the week) it started. Certainly you'll not be going back for $2.50 and $1 like you did the last time."
The employees' last strike occurred Jan. 14, 1975, at Laurel and Bowie. That strike was conducted by an independent union. Track employees voted to join the AFLO-CIO last May.
Attention now will turn to Annapolis and the state legislature, where a bill has been introduced that would provide some financial relief for the state's racing industry.
Horsemen will lose approximately $55,000 in purses every day the strike continues. The state will lose about the same amount daily as its share of the tax on wagering.
Meanwhile, representatives of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the American totalisator Corp. kept talking past a midnight deadline and struck a bargain early Friday.
American Tote, headquartered in Towson, provides parimutuel betting machinenery and service for Bowie and 39 other thoroughbred and harness racing tracks in the U.S. and Canada.