The president of Maryland's horsemen today lashed out at all the "do-nothing" parties involved in the 21-dayd-old strike track employees called the union leader "irresponsible," then pointed to a possible emergency 30-day race meeting at Delaware Park as the only possible "bright light" in the near future.
"I am developing a strong feeling that we, as owners and trainers, cannot live with this union," declared Fendall Clagett, the head of the area division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Porotective Association. "There is no possible way the tracks can operate at a profit with their demands."
Meanwhile, Local 692 of the Retail Store Employees Union, which represents the strike track employees, issued a three-page statement that contended the tracks and the union were only $2 per man per day" apart from an agreement. And word came from the state legislature in Annapolis that the horse industry's bills seeking tax relief for horsemen and the track owners were dead until next year.
"No one group is entirely responsible for our predicament, in which we are not on strike but are getting hurt the most," Clagett told an estimated 150 horsemen during a meeting at Pimlico.
"We are getting the shaft, four ways," the HBPA president continued. "We're getting it from the racing commission and the governor, who don't seem to care; from the union, whose leader, Al Akman, called a strike and then tok off for Florida for three weeks; from the track managements, and from the legislature."
There were indications today that federal and state mediators had alerted the tracks and the union to a renewal of talks on or before Tuesday. Negotiations broke off Thursday, March 10, Bowie was closed by the strike March 1.The shutdown has continued through the scheduled opening of the Pimlico meeting March 21. Laurel, Maryland's third major track, is also involved.
Clagett held out hope that Delaware Park, in Stanton, Del., might rescue Maryland forsemen from their present dilemma saying: "I talked with Baird Brittingham, the Delaware president, and he indicated a 30-day meeting was possible there, starting April 23 or April 30, if we could guarantee him that the Maryland strike be ended during the Delaware meeting."
Clagett asked for a show of hands by members who supported that idea. Approximately half of the trainers backed the suggestion.
"I'm going to make some sort of a recommendation by Thursday," Clagett said. "If we are serious about Delaware, we should let them know by April 10.
Many observers saw Clagett's overture to Delaware Park as an attempt to gain some leverage in the Maryland talks. "I sat back for three weeks and waited," the HBPA leader said. "We can wait no longer."
The union insisted it is the mile tracks' "reluctance, not the inability, to agree to legitimate and reasonable requests" that has caused the strike. "Only $2 per man per day separates agreement between management and employees," it said. "The tracks have offered $6.50 over a three-year period: the union seeks $12.50, a difference of $6 over three years, an average of $2 per year."
Akman is not "vacationing" in Florida, the union statement added, "but is there attending a meeting of the executive board of directors of the International Union of Retail Clerks, of which he is a vice president.
"The cost of living has been increased by 33 per cent" between 1973 and 1976, the statement noted. "Racetrack wages have been increased by an average of only 14 per cent -- a gap of 19 per cent, more than half the rise in the cost of living. . .
"In the area of health benefits, the employees are asking only for that which has been almost universal in the United States since the 40s, namely, coverage for family as well as worker, and here, too, the employees are asking for only limited coverage. The employees seek additional coverage because the cost of health care has increased even more than 33 per cent increase in the cost of living."
There had been hope in some quarters that affirmative action by the state legislature this month might make more money available to the tracks, for operations, and to the horsemen, for purses. Those hopes were dashed today when James Clark, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, "No action will be taken this year" on the industry's companion bills in the House and Senate.
"The industry presented a united front and, I thought, made a very good case for assistance," Sen. Clark declared. "But the strike is on now, the bills came up for hearings very late in the session, and the legislation called for the state giving up $4 million as its share of the tax on betting at a time when the Assembly was arguing over whether the sales tax must be raised. The timing couldn't have been worse."
The takeout at Maryland's major tracks is 15 per cent on regular pools and 16 per cent on multiple pools. Of the 15 per cent total, 5.34 goes to the state, 5.00 to purses, 3.41 to the track owners, 50 to the Maryland-bred fund, 50 to a fund for track improvements, and .25 to a pension fund.
Under the bills introduced this year, the state would have surrendered 1.34 per cent of its share, with that money being divided among the tracks (.50), the horsemen for purses (.50) and the Maryland-bred fund.
The bills would have increased the takeout on the triple pools from 16 to 25 per cent.