The strike by race track employees against Pimlico, Bowie and Laurel enters its 25th day Tuesday but despite the rain this morning, spirits improved appreciably on the picket lines and in management offices.
Federal mediator James Williams has called a meeting for Tuesday at 10 a.m. in his office here for all parties. The talks will be the first since negotiations between the union and the tracks broke down March 10.
"I haven't had any indication of change on the part of either side," Williams cautioned. "But it's time for the track officals and the union leaders to try again to work things out. They'll be meeting here in the federal building in Hopkins Plaza."
That was good news for members of Local 692, Retail Store Employees Union, for nonunion track workers, and for the state's horsemen who have been idled by the strike for nearly a month.
"Buddy Delp's gone to Chicago. King Leatherbury's sent some horses out there, and Dick Dutrow's sure to follow," commented Sonny Hine, another trainer. "That means it's going to be very difficult to fill the better races around here, if all three of those large outfits leave."
Track executives met today to prepare for Tuesday's increases over a three-year contract. Union leaders, who also met today, are seeking a $12.50 package instead of $6.50, but there are reports the union is prepared to reduce its demands to less than $10.
The union also reportedly has eliminated dental and optical costs from its proposal for improved health and welfare benefits.
This morning on the picket lines, the haealth and welfare provisions were very much on the mind of Joseph Trail and Art Dohler as they walked back and forth, under umbrellas, across the entrance to the Pimlico clubhouse.
"All the coverage we got is for ourselves, not the families," said Trail. "The tracks say we can use the $6.50 for expanded coverage, but then there'd be nothing left for wages, and we've got the lowest wage scale now of any mile track in the East."
Trail and Dohler live in Baltimore. Both are supervisors in the mutuel department and both, by now, are tired of some of the descriptions that have been written about their union and their president, Al Akman.
"Akman's a good man," Dohler decalred. "He's doing a hell of a job representing us. That's why a majority of us voted to join the AFL-CIO last year. Before that, when we had an indepdendent union, it was too much of a family affair. The last settlement we got, as an independent union, actually cost some of us money. We're not like the track owners. We're not millionaires who can take losses and deduct them some other way."
Trail has worked the mutuels for 12 years, Dohler for 20.
"It's been my life," Dohler said. "I've got one girl through college, a boy in college, and there are many other guys in the union just like me, not semiretired, with second jobs, like they often picture us as being."
The tracks have accussed Akman of refusing to submit their latest wage increase proposal to a vote by the local's membership. A $2.50 and $1.25 two-year offer by the tracks was rejected by the rank and file, 430-33, more than a week before the strike began March 12 at Bowie.
"We'd turn down the two-fifty, two and two, too," Trail remarked. "I don't think there's any doubt it would be voted down. It's not enough to do what we need for health and welfare. The tracks say, "Take it and do what you want.' We say we can't got he with what they're offering."
The additional health and welfare coverage would cost only 50 cents more per employee per day, the union contends. Akman refers to the existing fringe benefits as "primitive." He also charges that employees work a six-day work week without time and one-half for the sixth day, receive no paid holidays, have no vacation plan, are plagued by a seniority system filled with loopholes, and lack job security.
Local 692 represents mutuel clerks plus workers in the admissions, parking and security departments and assistant starters at the starting gate. The median wage for the 550 employees on strike is pegged at $40 a day by the tracks, at $34 a day by the union, with the pay range being $28-$60.