- Horse Racing - Calif. backstretch sweep finds labor violations

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Friday, June 16
Calif. backstretch sweep finds labor violations

INGLEWOOD, Calif.--A backstretch investigation conducted on Wednesday by state and federal authorities uncovered violations by trainers who were illegally paying employees in cash and failing to pay overtime, according to a labor commission spokesman. Dean Fryer of the California Labor Commission said Wednesday that the investigation was conducted simultaneously at Golden Gate Fields, Hollywood Park, Los Alamitos, and Santa Anita, and was scheduled to continue early on Thursday. Fryer did not identify the trainers, and said the investigation would continue.

Wednesday's interviews are part of a wider probe that labor officials are conducting into the treatment and pay of backstretch workers.

Fryer said offending trainers may face citations, civil fines, and/or notices for violations and would be required to compensate employees for past overtime hours worked.

"With the cash payments, typically, payment is not accompanied by an itemized statement listing withholdings, which is required," Fryer said. "The chances are pretty strong that they're not paying payroll taxes."

The investigation was conducted in conjunction with the California Horse Racing Board, which had representatives accompanying the other officials; the California Employment Development Department, which investigated the reporting of payroll taxes; United States Department of Labor, which was looking into overtime violations; and the California Division of Labor Standard Enforcement, which conducted interviews and investigated workers' compensation coverage, Fryer said.

Fryer said that after interviews were conducted with backstretch employees, testimony was checked against trainers' payroll records. He said there were seven investigative teams consisting of five people working throughout the state.

He said sanctions could be issued "as quick as a few days."

Accompanied by Spanish-speaking translator, trainers said officials visited several barns, asked employees about their jobs, wages, the number of hours worked, and overtime pay.

Last month, state and federal labor officials met with trainers on the Hollywood Park backstretch, discussing a variety of issues, including the responsibilities of trainers and bookkeepers to pay minimum wages ($5.75 in California), keeping records on the number of hours worked, and paying employees overtime.

At that meeting, state labor commissioner Art Lujan told trainers that his office was "not on a witch hunt. We are just trying to provide an update on rules that pertain to you."

State legislators conducted a four-hour meeting on the working and living conditions of backstretch workers in Sacramento on May 11 that was attended by racing officials.

Recently, the language of a proposed Assembly Bill (AB 1405) that would allow betting in California over telephone lines and over the Internet was changed to dedicate a portion of the proceeds for the health and welfare of backstretch workers.

The bill, scheduled to be heard by the Governmental Organization committee on Tuesday, does not specifically define how the money would be spent, according to Craig Fravel, the executive vice president of Del Mar. Fravel said the bill's language is likely to change in coming weeks as further meetings are held.

Fravel said it was likely that racetracks would dedicate funds for improvements of facilities used by backstretch workers, while horsemen would provide additional funds for health and welfare programs and a possible expansion of retirement funds.

"The money doesn't come out of thin air," Fravel said.

Tuesday's hearing is also expected to include a discussion of a bill that would require that 30 percent of revenues that racetracks earn from charity days go to benefit backstretch workers.

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