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Horsemen and track agree to end three-week dispute

Horsemen's board signs three-year deal, but expresses reservations about not having a non-retaliation clause.

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2001


OLDSMAR -- A three-week labor dispute at Tampa Bay Downs ended Saturday when members of the Tampa Bay Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association board grudgingly signed a deal with management it felt left its major grievance unaddressed.

"(The dispute is) an unfortunate occurrence, but finally, I hope we can go on from here," Downs general manager John Grady said.

Several TBHBPA board members had accused track management of trying to divide them from the horsemen but the will of the horseman went toward management.

"I don't think the horsemen have a clue which contract we ended up signing," TBHBPA vice president Bob Jeffries said.

Most important, the deal does not include a non-retaliation clause. Because five members of the board had been denied stalls this year, it felt such a clause was its only protection from what it perceived as management intimidation.

"The majority thought that because we didn't get stalls, that was just too bad," Jeffries said. "They didn't understand next year it could be them."

Management held firm on other key issues. The horsemen's daily simulcast fee was reduced by $1,200, but their revenue share will remain at 493/4 percent, not the even split the TBHBPA had sought.

With the three-year live-meet deal signed, the track may legally broadcast its simulcast signal out of state. That will mean as much as $2.5-million in revenues on Tuesdays, when the track is one of the few in the nation with live racing. With that revenue, the track can restore purses to regular level on Tuesday, Grady said. Purses had been slashed by 40 percent since the second day of the meet.

The horsemen's lone recourse appears to be Nov. 1-15 opt-out windows in each year of the contract.

"We can opt out if they retaliate again," Jeffries said, "but then we'll be right back in the same situation. Hopefully that won't happen again. Hopefully, they've punished the ones they wanted to punish and they'll leave the rest alone."

Grady said he thought the horsemen appreciated the offer, and that was why a deal was done.

"I think our relationships with the overall horsemen are very, very good," he said. "I think our relationship with the HBPA (board), particularly when negotiating with them, was not so good."

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