The 150 full-time pari-mutuel tellers who accept bets at Belmont Park are threatening to strike before Saturday, potentially disrupting the track's biggest day of the year.
The Department of Mutuel Employees local has operated without a contract since Dec. 31, after it was unable to come to an agreement with the New York Racing Association, which operates racing in the state. Negotiations began in March.
"Everybody is angry at NYRA," said Nick Bancalari, a teller at the track for 45 years and president of the local union. "After five months of negotiations, they came back with a contract that was totally unacceptable."
Ralph Chetcuti is the vice president of human resources at NYRA and has been handling negotiations. He said he was confident the tellers would not strike.
"We've got a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, and we're hoping for a settlement," he said. "I don't think we're that far apart. No one has served us officially with the threat of a strike."
Bancalari said NYRA has attempted to cut salaries of senior employees to pay incoming workers, is forcing retirements and reducing medical benefits. Chetcuti declined to comment on specific issues.
The conflict is taking place against the backdrop of federal indictments of NYRA on conspiracy and tax fraud charges last year. Two NYRA officials entered guilty pleas on tax fraud schemes after being accused of allowing mutuel tellers to falsify their tax returns.
Twenty-one tellers also were indicted in the past three years on the charges, leading to 20 convictions.
"We had a contract that says there is binding arbitration," Bancalari said. "If management could, they'd get rid of all of us."
Family's Fast Start
The Servis family didn't wait for Smarty Jones to run at Belmont this week. Trainer John Servis's older brother, Jason, saddled a fast 2-year-old filly named Chocolate Brown to victory in the $75,000 Fashion Stakes on Thursday.
In a field of six, Chocolate Brown burst to the lead and won by 13/4 lengths, running the five-furlong race in 57.86 seconds.
"When she came into the paddock, I made a comment to my assistant that she looks terrific and she's on her toes," Jason Servis said. "This is awesome. I wanted to get it warmed up for my brother."