Update: Corrected. The Governor had issued a statement via the NJSEA indicating if the union does change their position and approve the contract offered by Jeff Gural, the actions outlined below may not occur. Specifically: Racetrack employees were issued notices March 8 of potential layoffs as required by law, and absent a vote by Local 137, those layoffs will commence on May 12, the first date for which the legal cessation of all operations at the racetrack can now occur
At 5pm, Governor Christie announced the Meadowlands will be shutting down. Forget about a meet starting on May 7; that is the least of the problems. Christie announced simulcasting will cease on May 12 (likely the end of the 60 day WARN period) and layoffs will then begin.
Well, if the tellers thought they could flip the bird to Gural and keep working during simulcasting collecting their full salary, they made a big miscalculation. Son of a gun, Christie and Gural meant it. Now, with the exception of being open in August for about a week, the Meadowlands may be consigned to the scrap heap of history.
The union claims they were frustrated that they were being asked to take a pay cut of 20% while the big shots were not being impacted. To quote Warner Wolf, "Give Me a Break". Any union negotiator's first question upon learning they were going to be asked to take a pay cut would have asked "Why us? What about the big shots?" Today in an interview with The Record's John Brennan, Gural indicated anyone that was going to be working at the Meadowlands was going to have to take a 20% pay cut. Being Gural is a straight shooter, I am sure he communicated that to the union negotiating team.
What happend was the union leadership decided to play chicken, thinking Gural would fold. Well, thanks to Governor Christie, they have been handed their heads. A big mistake by the union. Anyone who reads a newspaper in New Jersey knows Governor Christie means what he says and is no big fan of unions.
Oh well, unless they reverse their vote quickly, starting May 12, they will have plenty of time to read the newspaper and learn of the Governor's style of running a state. They will then be able to kick themselves in the butt.
Is there any way to save the Meadowlands this year? Perhaps if the union held another meeting pomptly to vote and approve Gural's proposal there would be a chance. I am sure Gural would keep his offer open to save the Meadowlands, but it would depend if the Governor would repeal the death sentence. Is there any chance the Meadowlands can be saved at all? There is always a chance; until the wrecking ball shows up.
By now, you probably have read Jeff Gural's statement to the horsemen, but in case you didn't, here it is:
M E M O R A N D U M
To: The Horsemen
From: Jeffrey Gural
Date: April 15, 2011
Obviously, I am very disappointed with the vote yesterday by the tellers not to ratify the proposal we gave them to extend their contract three years at the expiration of the existing contract next February. This is extremely disappointing considering I have actually raised the money which I thought was the hard part. I believe we are very close to an agreement with the state with only two or three open points remaining. At this point, I think we have to assume that the Meadowlands will not reopen for racing on May 7th unless the tellers reconsider.
I am looking into the possibility of relocating the Graduate and The Cutler Memorial stakes races which were originally scheduled to be raced at the Meadowlands on May 7th with a final on May 14th to the
other tracks that I own. I would recommend making the payments for those two races that are due today and the money will be refunded if the race is cancelled. I am actually on my way to Vernon for opening night. I will discuss this with the horsemen at both Tioga and Vernon to see if we can come up with something as I think it would be unfair at this late date to cancel those two races.
Hopefully the tellers will have a change of heart but in the meantime I think it would be prudent to assume that the facility will not reopen for racing on May 7th.
I would like to thank the many horsemen who contributed to this effort financially as we raised close to $1,000,000 to cover the costs associated with trying to keep the Meadowlands open. I am very sorry that this effort did not end the way we had all hoped but it is not for lack of effort.
So What Happens Next?
My guess is the NJSEA will meet with the Governor to determine how long a meet he will permit them to hold in August. Remember, the Hambletonian is a contractual obligation of the Meadowlands. Some of this will be determined by how much remains in the purse account (if anything). Then the NJSEA will decide which races they want to put in this mini meet. I assume the Meadowlands Pace, the Woodrow Wilson and some of the Hambletonian Day races will remain.
Those races owned by the Hambletonian Society that are raced at the Meadowlands will likely find a new home and the Meadowlands may transfer some of the stakes races to other tracks willing to put up the added money the Meadowlands was on the hook for. The remaineder of the stakes races will be cancelled and monies paid in will be refunded to those still eligible to them.
An interesting question is what happens to the NJSS races the Meadowlands was to host? Those purses are not put up by the tracks so they can be contested. The options are they could be transferred to Freehold; they can be raced at the Meadowlands as non-wagering events if the Governor allows the NJSEA to pay for for the workers required or if the SBOANJ decides to pay for the employees; or they may be raced at Gaitway Farms as non-wagering events. Being NJSS events are scheduled to begin in May, a decision will need to be made promptly.
It will be an interesting few weeks, for all the wrong reasons.
As for thoroughbred fans, the focus will turn to Monmouth Park. Hopefully those unions will learn from the mistakes made in East Rutherford. Otherwise, you may find yourselves in the same boat.