ALBANY -- New York's thoroughbred horsemen are trying to modernize their pay practices and come into compliance with state labor laws, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association said in response to state back-pay findings against several of its members.
"As New York's wage and labor practices continually evolve, New York's thoroughbred trainers have worked extremely hard to modernize their payment practices," said Joe Appelbaum, association president. "However, they sometimes find themselves in a difficult position as they try to manage agricultural businesses while faced with a myriad of complicated employment rules, many of which are not conducive to the effective care and training of a horse."
The association responded after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday announced Department of Labor findings and fines and penalties totaling $1 million against some top-ranked New York trainers, including Eclipse Award winner and Mechanicville native Chad Brown, who in recent years was the top trainer during the Saratoga Race Course meet.
"All racetrack workers should be paid fairly and appropriately under the law," Appelbaum continued in a prepared statement. "No small business is perfectly run and these compliance issues mainly stem from a combination of long-term industry practices, the confusing nature of wage and hour rules and a challenging timekeeping environment."
The penalties stemmed from a Department of Labor investigation into wage violations against nearly 350 backstretch workers -- mostly grooms and hotwalkers. As is common across the industry, the thoroughbred stables involved employed low-paid workers, many of them immigrants, who worked long hours.
In addition to Brown, who was required to pay $526,427 in back wages, damages and penalties, the stables found to be in violation included Kiaran McLaughlin Racing Stable Inc, Linda Rice Racing, and James A. Jerkens Inc. The penalty against Brown was the largest.
State officials have not specified where the violations occurred, but all those cited race at Saratoga during the summer meet, in addition to racing as Belmont, the primary site for New York state racing.
"New York's trainers are focused on complying with New York's employment laws and are genuinely concerned about meeting their obligations within a system that fails to recognize the unique nature of our industry," Appelbaum said.