Horse Racing

Union workers at Pimlico Race Course avert strike before Preakness by ratifying contract with pay raise

With days left before the horse racing world turns its eyes on Pimlico Race Course for the Preakness Stakes weekend, employees at the Baltimore track averted a threatened strike by approving a contract with the Maryland Jockey Club that provides their first pay raise in more than a decade.

About 90% of the members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 27 voted to ratify a labor agreement with the Jockey Club that will increase pay for the next two years and provide retroactive raises dating to Jan. 1, 2018 — when the previous contract expired, union officials said.


“The new agreement, reached as Preakness weekend approaches, implements higher wages, better healthcare coverage and other new benefits for union employees,” said Jason Chorpenning, UFCW Local 27 president, in an email. “UFCW Local 27 remains committed to thoroughbred racing, including important events like the Preakness and Maryland Million Day, and to the employees at Pimlico and Laurel who make those events possible.”

Chorpenning credited the “tenacity of the union membership for this success” and thanked the Jockey Club for the agreement.


A Jockey Club official could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but the company said Friday that it hoped the union would approve the deal.

The vote to approve a new contract for the union’s 149 members at Pimlico, Laurel Park and at Jockey Club operations in Timonium and Bowie came a week after employees rejected the company’s previous offer and voted to approve a strike before Black Eyed Susan day kicked off Preakness weekend on Friday.

A strike by the UFCW — which represents betting window tellers, parking lot attendants, starting gate workers, security officers, jockey valets and others — could have hurt the track’s ability to handle the millions of dollars that nearly 200,000 spectators will wager and spend at the Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan Day.

Union officials started negotiations asking for 3% wage increases each year over three years. The company’s offer worked out to about 3.03% over three years.

In addition to better health and other benefits, the new contract will increase paychecks beginning June 1 by between 3% and 5.72% depending on job classifications, union officials said. Additional 1.5% increases will kick in on Jan. 1, 2020 and on Jan. 1, 2021.

And, employees will receive checks next month for retroactive increases to their 2018 pay.

Earl Hedrick, 66, said he and many of his fellow Pimlico employees are happy with the deal and are pleased that they will be working this weekend rather than striking.

“Most people are very happy about the contract,” said Hedrick, a Timonium resident who has worked in parking and other positions at Pimlico for nearly eight years. “People should be happy. We’re going to work.”


While he believes the Preakness is likely to eventually move to Laurel, the deal provides labor peace at a time when The Stronach Group, which owns the Jockey Club, has been butting heads with state and city lawmakers over whether to rebuild Pimlico or raze the 149-year-old track to consolidate operations at Laurel Park.

The threat of a strike among its core workers — not the hundreds of temporary employees hired for Preakness weekend — transpired in a year of several headaches for the track and The Stronach Group.

The Jockey Club lost its fight in Annapolis to pass a bill that could have helped the company establish a “super track” at Laurel Park and perhaps eventually close Pimlico and move the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown out of Baltimore. The company faced criticism for spending the bulk of its state subsidies for racetrack improvements at Laurel instead of Pimlico, and for the housing conditions of people who live and work on the backstretch.

Shortly after the bill died in April in the General Assembly, Stronach closed nearly 7,000 seats deemed too unsafe to bear the weight of Preakness spectators. The timing of the announcement led several Baltimore-area officials, including Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, to accuse the company of orchestrating the “disaster or emergency” that state law requires to move Preakness away from Pimlico.

Then, last week, two of the best Kentucky Derby horses — the official victor and the disqualified one — announced they were skipping Preakness, guaranteeing no possibility of a Triple Crown winner this year.