By Bill Finley
With a contract covering health benefits and life insurance for jockeys riding in New York about to expire at the end of the year, the possibility of a walkout by Aqueduct jockeys is looming as the two sides are not close to an agreement on a new deal.
The story was first reported by the Daily Racing Form.
The Guild has asked NYRA to sign a three-year contract and has asked for a 1% increase in the amount NYRA pays into a pool during the second and third years of the contract. Jockeys’ Guild National Manager Terry Meyocks said he has not heard from NYRA officials in “three or four days” and that he does not know when and if negotiations will continue.
Because entries for the cards of Jan 1, 4 and 5 are taken during 2017, the riders will be covered for those days. The first day of racing that could be impacted would be Jan. 6.
“What the riders do (in case there is no contract agreement) would be up to them as individuals,” said Guild attorney Tom Kennedy. “But they understand the issues and the risks. This is a strong colony and there is a lot of loyalty among them to the Jockeys’ Guild.”
“We have to stay together,” Irad Ortiz Jr. told DRF. “We’re not asking for more or less than we have right now, we’re just asking for the same thing. If they don’t do it, I guess we’re going to have to stop riding. We have to stay together. Nobody can do something different, then it’s going to be a mess. We’re all jockeys.”
According to Kennedy, both the Stronach Group and Churchill Downs have agreed to the same contract the Guild is seeking from NYRA.
The contract does not involve health insurance. Rather, the money involved is used for life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment policies and for a fund that goes to jockeys to help them out financially if they are sidelined by injury. Meyocks said that since 2007 the Guild has paid out over $13 million from the pool of money it receives from the racetracks.
“Hopefully, we will have an agreement in place,” Meyocks said. “Hopefully, we will get this resolved but we have to make sure that not, if, but when, the riders get injured they are taken care of. We’ve had so many situations like this, with jockeys like Ramon Dominguez, Jose Espinoza, Rajiv Maragh. Jockeys get hurt and we have to make sure they are taken care of.”
Meyocks said the benefits include a $250 weekly payment to any Guild member who cannot ride due to injury.
“The NYRA jockey colony has always been a leader for the Guild,” Meyocks said. “They realize we take care of the ‘little guy’ jocks and how important that is.”
NYRA officials have not commented on the impasse and Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations, told the Form he would not “negotiate in the press.”
The last time there was a jockey action in New York was in the fall of 1988 when the track’s top jockeys refused to ride over a handful of issues, primarily how much they were paid when finishing second or third. Racing continued with exercise riders and riders from lower level tracks coming in to accept mounts. Then known as the NYRA Mile, the first running of the GI Cigar Mile was contested with all replacement riders and was won by Billy Fox Jr. aboard Forty Niner.