SBJ/January 31 - February 6, 2005/Labor Agents

Jockeys aim for state fund run by Guild

A group of California racehorse jockeys, worried about controversy surrounding the management of the national Jockeys’ Guild, have formed their own organization in an attempt to take over management of a state fund that pays about $1 million a year for benefits for jockeys.

Veteran Northern California jockey Ron Warren Jr. filed papers last week with the California Secretary of State’s office to form a nonprofit corporation called the California Jockeys Guild. Attempts to reach Warren were unsuccessful.

Paul Atkinson, a Southern California jockey who is involved with the effort, said the state guild is being set up to “secure” the health benefits of California jockeys.

There are 332 jockeys licensed to race in California, but only about 100 of them ride regularly in the state and qualify for state health and welfare benefits. The founding of the California Jockeys Guild is a response to recent events surrounding the national labor organization, which represents about 1,200 jockeys.

“I am concerned myself, and I would say that others are concerned, with the behavior of the national Jockeys’ Guild board of directors and the current management,” Atkinson said. He wouldn’t be more specific about those concerns other than to point to numerous news “events” surrounding the Guild in the last few months. He also stressed that the new guild won’t try to get jockeys to resign from the national Jockeys’ Guild, but instead will encourage membership in both organizations.

A spokesman for the national Jockeys’ Guild declined to comment.

The Jockeys’ Guild came under fire last fall when jockeys discovered that the organization had canceled insurance that covered them for catastrophic racing accidents without officially informing them. Since then, a major racetrack trade organization and Churchill Downs have called for an accounting of the Guild’s books, and more than 100 jockeys signed a petition for an audit of the Guild.

The Guild also expelled its former treasurer and removed a paralyzed former jockey from his position as co-chair of a Guild charity after they sued the organization for an accounting of its books.

The California Horse Racing Board has formed a committee to look into allegations surrounding the Guild, including whether it double-billed the state and the charity, the Disabled Jockeys’ Fund, for the same expenses. The board has asked the Guild for numerous documents, including a complete accounting of money paid out of a special state fund set up by the California legislature in 1997 to be used for health and welfare benefits for California jockeys.

Racing Board member Richard Shapiro, who is spearheading the committee investiating the Guild, said in a statement that he received a letter from California jockeys about their intention to form a guild, but had no further comment.

Atkinson, who is one of the jockeys appointed to the racing board committee that is requesting information from the Guild, said that if a majority of the California jockeys join the California Jockeys Guild, the law would authorize that the state money, which comes from uncashed bets on California races, would go to the new organization.

Atkinson wouldn’t provide a lot of details about the new guild, including how many jockeys were involved in forming it or how long it was in the planning stages. California jockeys did not sign the petition asking for an audit of the Guild, but there has been a growing rift between the California jockeys and the national labor organization, which is based in Monrovia, Calif.

In fact, Atkinson said, after being stifled in their attempts to find out more about health benefits from the Jockeys’ Guild, about a year ago a group of jockeys formed the California Health and Welfare Committee to gain some control over their health care needs.

At its annual meeting in Dallas in December, the Jockeys’ Guild didn’t re-elect Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, who is based in Southern California, to the board of directors, meaning that for the first time in many years there is no California jockey on the Guild’s nine-member board.

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