Union vote on simulcasts challenged Employees approve changes, but ballots raise questions


In a vote that has been challenged by union observers, track employees have agreed by a narrow margin to changes in their labor contract that would pave the way for Pimlico/Laurel to start taking full-card simulcasts from a number of out-of-state tracks.

The plan is in limbo -- possibly for as long as 10 days -- until a final determination on the status of the contract is made by Thomas Russow, president of Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents the work force.

There were so many objections and challenges lodged by observers as the ballots were counted yesterday at union headquarters that the final result will be determined by Russow after he consults with the union's international and local councils. There was also some question about the validity of the vote being conducted by mail.

Buddy Mays, a UFCW official instrumental involved in the negotiations, said such challenges resulted from observers who challenged questioned the authenticity of some of the ballots.

"The votes were mailed in and there was some question that some of the envelopes or ballots had been reproduced," Mays said. "But only one ballot is allowed per envelope. They were mailed into a private mailbox and then they were opened by a neutral nine-person committee."

Mays would not give the exact figures of the vote, but said approximately 400 ballots were received, which corresponds with the number of employees -- mutuels workers, as well as security and admissions personnel.

The vote was necessary because simulcasting would force changes in the workers' schedules.

Sources said yesterday that the new contract was ratified by a 23-vote margin, but that there were 32 challenges.

Mays said Russow should make a decision whether or not to accept the vote within seven to 10 days. "He [Russow] is out of town today and cannot be reached," Mays said. "Two things can happen. He [Russow] accepts the vote. Or there is the possibility another vote is taken. But that vote would not be done by mail, but would be conducted at a mass meeting."

"We're happy that the vote is positive," said Pimlico/Laurel general manager Jim Mango. "We view this as a technicality that the union has to address. We're not surprised at the closeness of the vote because this has been a very complicated procedure. But we're now in a sort of Catch-22 situation. We have to wait and see how Russow rules."

The tracks had hoped to start the multiple signal program on Tuesday, but that now seems unlikely.

Track operator Joe De Francis said late yesterday that he had not been able to reach Russow. "But we hope we can start the multiple signals on Thursday" he said.

Under the revised contract, the UFCW workers will receive a pay increase of 9.4 percent over their current base pay for every extra half-hour that they work, Mango said. The employees currently work 4 1/4 hours on weekdays and 5 1/4 hours on weekends. Under the contract they are guaranteed to work 10 races on weekdays and 12 races on weekends.

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