Labor Department Action at Saratoga Race Course Effects Change in New York State's Racing Industry
Seminar on Labor Laws Held One Day Before Beginning of New Season at Saratoga
Report from the Backstretch: One Year Later
Albany, NY (July 28, 2009) - Can't See the video? Click Here to Get Adobe Flash Player. State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith today announced that the Labor Department is continuing to collaborate with trainers, workers, the New York Racing Association (NYRA), and advocates to improve the conditions of backstretch workers at Saratoga and other race courses in the state. As a result of its August 2008 investigation of minimum wage and overtime laws affecting Saratoga Race Course’s backstretch workers, many trainers attended four seminars offered by the Labor Department last fall to educate employers about labor laws, and have learned how to change their practices to comply. Today, the Labor Department offered a kickoff seminar at the start of the season to advise trainers about the new minimum wage of $7.25, which came into effect Friday. Today's seminar will also allow trainers the opportunity to refresh their knowledge or clarify any lingering questions.
Backstretch workers, including “hot walkers,” grooms and watchmen, are employed by trainers at Saratoga and other racetracks to provide round-the-clock exercise, feeding, grooming, and care for the racehorses.
The affected workers were employed by individual trainers who function as independent contractors, typically training horses for multiple thoroughbred owners. While not employed by either NYRA or the State Racing and Wagering Board, owners and trainers are represented by the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA).
“In just one year, we have helped trainers shift their employment practices to be in greater compliance with the law," said Commissioner Smith. “We will continue to partner with NYRA, trainers, and workers to ensure that at every Post Time, at every race course in the state, fair pay for backstretch workers remains front and center.”
Last year's investigation, which also included Belmont and Aqueduct Race Courses, resulted in the Department collecting nearly $234,000 in wage underpayments to date. The Department is in negotiations with dozens of trainers to recoup an additional $670,000 on behalf of workers.
Trainers have been generally cooperative with the investigations, and workers have informally reported to Labor Department staff that their working conditions are in greater compliance with state laws.
Throughout the season at Saratoga, the Labor Department will continue to ensure that employers comply with labor laws, through education, and where necessary, labor law enforcement. Already, the majority of trainers at Saratoga Race Course have been provided with information from the Department of Labor on minimum wage and overtime requirements under the labor law.
New York State's minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and employers are required to pay overtime for weekly hours past forty at 1½ times the employee's regular pay rate. The State Labor Department encourages employers and workers to contact the department about wage and hour issues. Investigators from the Division of Labor Standards will answer any questions regarding compliance with New York's labor laws. Information is available at www.labor.ny.gov or by phone at 1-888-52-LABOR.