Racetrack Under Fire for Violations

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State and federal investigations last week turned up labor violations at Golden Gate Fields, a racetrack on the Berkeley-Albany border.

Horse trainers often failed to pay their employees minimum wage, said Dean Freyer, a spokesperson for the State Labor Commissioner.

"A lot of trainers were not keeping accurate records," he said.

Freyer has also said in news reports that trainers failed to pay their workers at all for overtime hours and may have avoided payroll taxes by paying in cash.

"Some citations were issued on the spot," Freyer said. "The investigation is still ongoing. We're still looking at payroll records to determine whether or not proper payments were made. There's going to be times when we go in again. There may be citations issued still. This is just the beginning."

Freyer said that aside from punishing trainers, the investigation helps to educate them about the law.

"What's real important here is the educational aspect," Freyer said. "We also provide training and outreach to the (trainers) so they understand what is required by law."

Sam Spear, the racetrack's spokesperson, said Golden Gate Fields' management is not to blame.

"The trainers are independent contractors," he said. "They don't work for the track and the groomers are hired independently by the trainers."

Spear said some trainers treated their grooms well, and that he advised trainers to avoid further problems by keeping more accurate record books.

Current law allows trainers to work their backstretchers, the employees who care for the horses, up to 56 hours per week without paying overtime, according to Spear. Federal law that will take effect July 1, however, will require trainers to pay overtime after 48 hours.

The racetrack assists backstretchers even though they are not employed by Golden Gate Fields, Spear said.

"We do provide housing and dental and medical services for the backstretchers, (and) we will be doing capital improvement this summer to make the living conditions better," Spear said.

Living conditions at other California racetracks were found unsanitary by investigators from the U.S. Labor Department and the state Employment Development Department.

An April Los Angeles Times article triggered the investigations. Because of the complexities of state law, investigations only occurred when a complaint was made.

Golden Gate Fields' employee facilities had not been inspected since 1990, according to John Casey, spokesperson for state Assemblymember Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat from Long Beach.

Lowenthal and other assembly members proposed a bill Tuesday that would strengthen racetrack regulations. It proposes to prevent wage violations, allow backstretchers to unionize and prohibit racetracks from holding races if they fail to meet housing standards.


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