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Churchill Downs valets not to strike on Derby day following contract dispute, lawsuit

With days away until the 147th Kentucky Derby takes place at Churchill Downs, several of the...
With days away until the 147th Kentucky Derby takes place at Churchill Downs, several of the track’s essential workers took to the streets demanding fair wages.(WAVE 3 News)
Published: May. 1, 2021 at 9:06 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - It was in the eleventh hour when valets announced they would work Derby Saturday despite ongoing contract disputes with Churchill Downs.

The announcement comes after a week of protesting, a lawsuit, and even threatening to strike during the Run for the Roses.

Valets are workers who saddle the horses and ensure compliant races.

Last week, negotiations were canceled by Churchill Downs, with valets saying that leaves them with substandard wages and pension benefits. Valets have said they are working on expired contracts, demanding fair wages for their essential work in horseracing.

During Oaks, you could see a plane over Churchill Downs with a sign trailing, saying “No Valets, No Derby! Fair Contract Now!”

The union representing valets, SEIU Local 541, authorized a potential strike earlier this week.

However, in a last minute decision mere minutes after midnight, the union released the following statement.

“With the world’s eyes on the Kentucky Derby, we want to thank everyone for their support in the fight for livable wages, dignity, and respect for the valets at Churchill Downs. The valets have made the incredibly tough and selfless decision to put this event and the entire community above themselves, and the leadership of SEIU Local 541 respects that decision. The valets will continue to work the Kentucky Derby with the same commitment, passion, and dedication that they always have, and this union will continue to support them in their pursuit of a fair and just contract.”

Last night before the announcement was released, the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council stated they filed a lawsuit against Churchill Downs seeking permanent injunction to peacefully protest outside of Churchill Downs and to be awarded damages from lost wages.

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