The Maryland State Racing Commission held a public hearing this morning on the month-long strike by employees at Marylands major tracks, then met privately with union and management leaders in the afternoon. At day's end there were conflicting reports as to what progress had been made.
"I was pleased with the way both sides responded," said Newton Brewer, the commission chairman. "These men are dedicated, sincere, hard-working people. I made many, many suggestions to them. They made no commitment. But I have a strong feeling - it's a little more than that - that they are going to work things out.
"I honestly believe," Brewer stressed," that something affirmative will be happening between now and the end of the week."
One of the "affirmative" action will not involve the commission's permission
"I am opposed to any such action, and so are my associates," Brewer declared. "That's not the way to go about solving this situation."
Federal mediator James Williams is expected to re-enter the negotiations Wednesday.
If Brewer was optimistic following today's meetings, Pimlico general manager Chick Lang was not. He termed the end of the strike a "a million to one shot."
"I can't believe there was any reason for the commission to be optimistic," Lang said. "Representatives of all three tracks (Pimlico, Bowie and Laurel) are meeting this evening to re-evaluate today's happenings, but what's changed? The only person who can end the strike is Al Akman (President of Local 692, Retail Store Employees Union)."
Akman was not available for comment following the afternoon session. Earlier, he told the commission the union "is taking something out of the pot, by what we're asking, but we're not out to take the whole pot by anyone's imagination. There's no question all three traks will show a profit."
Sander Wise, the tracks' legal counsel, insisted "two of the three tracks (Laurel and Bowie) are destined to wind up in red ink" if they accept the union's demand for a $12.50 a day raise over three years. The tracks are offering $6.50. "We just don't have the resources," Wise contended.
There was speculation the commission might offer increases in admission, parking, concession and other prices as a catalyst for solving the strike.
"We don't intend to ask for anything like that," said Nathan Cohen, vice president of Pimlico. "If they were granted, I'm not at all sure we'd accept them, not if they were intended as the means for ending the strike."
John Schapiro, president of Laurel, and Ben Cohen, Pimlico's secretary-treasurer, supported Nathan Cohen's view.
Akman agreed that such increases "are not the proper way to bring this thing to an end." But, he added, "On history, that's the way these situations have been solved in Maryland racing. The tracks always expect someone else (the commission or the state legislature) to reach in and help."
Fendal Clagett, president of Maryland-area horsemen, asked the commission not to mortgage the future of the sport in the state by offering such increases. "We're opposed to any and all of them." Clagett declared. "They all would have an adverse effect on the mutuel handle."
Pimlico announced last week if intended to take the tracks' case to the employees, requesting they return to work. Local members voted 455 to 46 Monday night to reject the tracks' three-year wage offer and Pimlico officials said today they have no plans to make such an appeal.
"We don't want to break the union," Lang noted."We never intended to bring in a new work force."
Pimlico has set Friday as a deadline for determining the future of the Preakness Stafkes and its entire meeting, scheduled to end May 31.
"That's still the deadline," Lang said. "Unfortunately, we're down to the last page of the book. The governor, the mayor, state and federal mediators, the commission, just about everybody has tried to solve our problems. There are only two people left, Jerry Kapstein and Mister Diz. That's how desperate it is."