Churchill Downs Valets Go on Strike, Possible Derby Walkout
Union employees who work as valets at Churchill Downs have decided to go on strike, a move that could affect the upcoming Kentucky Derby.
Valets play an important role in the horse racing industry. These individuals are the ones who help prepare the horses for races as well as the jockeys. Their roles may be unknown to the public, but they are needed when it comes to preparing for big races. In Kentucky, the valets that work at the Churchill Downs venue have decided to go on strike, and it is not an opportune time for the facility. The Kentucky Derby is set for this weekend and the strike may have a negative effect on the process of the race weekend.
Time for a Contract
Earlier this week, the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council held an emergency meeting. During the meeting, the Service Employees International Union Local 541 was discussed and how fellow members could show support for a strike.
Previous to the meeting, the national leadership of the union gave the approval for the strike. Today, the local members plan to hold a leafletting session that will provide details on the Saturday strike. President of the Council, Todd Dunn, commented on the upcoming Kentucky Derby, noting how it is a signature event in the sport.
He pointed out that the entire event is union made, from the valets to the clerks and other individuals who work hard to ensure the Run for the Roses takes place. All of the employees are vital, and the Council is prepared to stand with the employees as they take this stand against the company.
The valets have been working for several months without a contract and want to see one signed with the company now. The deal with Churchill Downs expired in October 2020. Last week, the racing company gave the union its final offer and it was not accepted.
What do Union Members Want?
Right now, the valets are paid $109 per day when working at Churchill. They make just over $16 an hour when working at the Turfway. The union wants to see the earnings go up to $120 per day at both tracks for the first year of a deal that would last three years. They also want the valets to earn a $5 a day raise later on.
Churchill wants to keep the $109 rate during the first year. They offered to bump Turfway pay to $17.02 an hour. During the final two years of the contract, the company would offer additional raises.
The local union also wants to see the pension fund increased. The last time the Turfway pension fund increased was a long time ago, back in 1999. Churchill Downs took over Turfway in 2019 and did not provide any increase in pension at the track at the time.
On top of these points, the union also wants to see Churchill guarantee the numbers for every workday. Staffing requirements are based on the number of horses that take part in a race. At Churchill Downs, valets work around 70 days annually. The number is lower at Turfway, at around 50 each year.
Since the Kentucky Derby is set to take place this weekend, Churchill Downs reportedly has a plan ready in case they need valets on race day. The company also says that the claims by the union are not true and that they are still willing to negotiate a contract for Turfway since the venue will not be racing again until later on this year.
It will be interesting to see if any headway is made today or possibly tomorrow before the big event. Will we see a big strike take place as the historic horse racing event gets underway?