Merry Christmas to the Backstretch Workers

In the absence of local racing news (and let’s hope that this is a temporary situation due to the holiday break, not a taste of what the NY racing world will feel like on January 1st), NYRA reports that an Albany consulting firm will be working with B.E.S.T. (Backstretch Employees Service Team) to underwrite a holiday dinner for the backstretch workers, to be held on Christmas Eve. I recognize these days that “Albany” and “racing” in the same sentence do not exactly fill folks with good cheer, but I am hopeful that in this case, even the most cynical among us can be heartened. I admit: when I first read about this earlier in the week, I wondered if there were some political connection to the franchise negotiations. I can’t say that there is, and I can’t say that there’s not, being completely unfamiliar with the organization, but irrespective of politics, the backstretch workers are the beneficiaries, and they have too often been left out of the conversations about the future of New York racing.

Bollam, Sheedy, Torani & Co. LLP (BST—nifty cross-promotion in the acronym department) will underwrite the meal to be held in the backstretch kitchens at both Belmont and Aqueduct, and that will serve over 500 workers.

The back-story to this starts in an article in the Albany Times-Union about which I wrote in late January. According to Cate Dolan, president of B.E.S.T., in 2006 the counseling part of the organization expanded to include all health-related programs for the backstretch workers; I have heard her say that, essentially, B.E.S.T. covers all the healthcare costs of these workers. That year, the budget more than quadrupled, and it also included recreational activities, such as meals for the workers at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In a recent e-mail, Dolan told me that B.E.S.T. became a victim of its own success: because so many workers were enrolling its programs, the organization developed a huge deficit that resulted in budget cuts, and among the things to go were the recreational activities. Lost in this shuffle were the holiday meals, and in November, the longstanding tradition of a Thanksgiving meal for the workers was ended.

As Dolan notes in the NYRA article, she is thrilled that the Christmas holiday meal is a go. And I can imagine that, given where we are with the racing franchise, those workers are thrilled as well. Think about it: On Monday evening, they will be treated to a meal on the backstretches of the racetrack, their place of employment; exactly one week later, they may well be barred entry to these places and be out of work, unless Albany can get its act together—and I am not holding my breath.

I have often trumpeted the good works of various racing charities, especially the Belmont Child Care Association and B.E.S.T.; their value cannot, I think, be underestimated at this time, when the futures of the backstretch workers are so uncertain and precarious. The unparalleled arrogance of Messrs. Bruno, Spitzer, and Silver, and their singular lack of concern for the all of the workers at the tracks, frontside and backside, is for me, reason alone to cast my votes elsewhere when the time comes.

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