If you’ve attended races at the stately Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York, the last thing on your mind was probably “I wonder how the workers are treated here.” Let’s face it, when we’re enjoying a nice day out with our friends and family, we don’t think about the people who keep businesses like this track running.
But for over 1,200 workers at the race course, life isn’t so rosy. Investigations by the state labor commission found that 80 percent of 110 backstretch workers were not paid minimum wage or time and a half for overtime. These workers include everyone from grooms to hot walkers to night watchmen. Workers, who are employed by individual trainers at the track, are estimated to have been cheated out of $70,000 a week because of these wage violations.
In addition to wage violations, many workers were forced to work 7 days a week, more than 360 days a year. To make matters worse, many are housed in deplorable conditions, sleeping many to a room on bedbug infested mattresses or inflatable mattresses or on the floor. The workers shuttle between the Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct tracks, where conditions are equally bad.
This investigation was part of the state labor commission’s efforts to increase oversight of low-wage industries. Sadly, the horse racing industry isn’t alone in mistreating low-wage workers – other industries are also cheating employees out of fair pay. We hope that these investigations result in fair pay and humane working conditions for all workers – and punishment and shame for employers who take advantage of those who have so little.