Churchill Downs Faces Federal Lawsuit After Union Claims Track Violated Collective Bargaining Agreement

Posted on: January 3, 2020, 10:56h. 

Last updated on: January 5, 2020, 10:35h.

A lawsuit was filed in a Kentucky federal court earlier this week claiming Churchill Downs breached a union labor deal by keeping temporary employees for longer than the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) allows.

A labor union is trying to get Churchill Downs to submit to arbitration after it claims the track allowed temporary part-time workers to work during fall meet in violation of the bargaining agreement between the parties. (Image:

The Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local No. 576 is seeking to compel officials with the Louisville racetrack into arbitration, according to the complaint, which was filed on Monday in Kentucky’s Western District US District Court.

The union represents the full-time, hourly maintenance and housekeeping workers employed at the thoroughbred track. The Laborers and Churchill currently have a five-year CBA in place until Feb. 14, 2023.

Per the agreement, Churchill has the ability to hire part-time workers after the spring meet ends, provided those individuals are let go before the start of the fall meet. However, this year, the union claims Churchill retained the part-time workers at the start of the 2019 fall meet in late October.

A week later, the union field a grievance. However, throughout the month of November, the lawsuit claims Churchill Downs officials repeatedly rebuffed efforts to proceed with arbitration.

“Defendant’s failure to and refusal to arbitrate the Grievance has been willful, in bad faith, and it constitutes a blatant disregard of Defendant’s obligations under the Contract,” the union’s lawsuit states.

Per a copy of the CBA attached with the lawsuit, maintenance employees, which includes gardeners, mechanics, and drivers, earn a minimum of $22.62 an hour. Housekeepers’ minimum wage is $13.96.

Churchill Claims Contractor Performed Work

An attempt to reach Churchill Downs officials for comment on Friday afternoon was unsuccessful.

However, in documents supplied by the union in its complaint, Justin Paul, a vice president and associate general counsel for Churchill Downs, claimed the grievance was denied because the work being performed was actually done by employees of a company contracted by Churchill Downs to handle certain tasks at the track.

The Nov. 11 letter to the union’s business manager said the contractor had been at Churchill Downs since 2006, and that the union has recognized the right and necessity for the track to employ contractors throughout the year, especially during peak times – such as Kentucky Derby week and other times when the track hosts live racing.

Another Suit Pending

This is actually the second lawsuit involving the two parties. In August, Churchill Downs filed a suit in the same federal court seeking to vacate an arbitration award.

That suit stems from a union grievance claiming Churchill Downs hired a subcontractor to perform housekeeping and maintenance at Derby City Gaming, the track’s historical horse racing parlor. Derby City opened in September 2018, roughly nine months after the current CBA was ratified.

The CBA states the union has the right to represent workers at both the track and the physical address where Derby City Gaming is located. In the CBA, that address is listed as Trackside, which served as Churchill Downs off-track betting venue.

An arbitrator ruled in favor of the union, prompting track officials to take the matter to court.

In that complaint, Churchill Downs stated that it negotiated the ability to hire part-time workers and subcontractors to perform certain duties. The company also claims the union only had its members working at the track.

There were no discussions or proposals during the 2018 contract negotiations concerning bargaining unit employees performing work at Derby City Gaming. No representations were made by Plaintiff concerning the potential for bargaining unit employees to transfer to Derby City Gaming,” Churchill Downs’ lawsuit said.

According to that lawsuit, the union has about 70 members who work at Churchill Downs.

No ruling has been made in that case.