Lester: 1,500 Arlington backstretch workers could be displaced

  • The backstretch at Arlington Park might not open without an agreement with a horsemen's association, officials say.

    The backstretch at Arlington Park might not open without an agreement with a horsemen's association, officials say. Daily Herald File Photo

Posted4/21/2016 5:28 AM

As many as 1,500 employees who live at Arlington Park's "backstretch" during racing season could be displaced if an agreement isn't reached between the track and the association that represents horse owners and trainers who race there.

Arlington General Manager Tony Petrillo tells me the backstretch -- the 160-acre area with dormitory-style housing provided by the track to low-wage workers -- won't open without a contract in place. Typically, he said, workers begin to arrive in small groups this month, with the largest influx of workers a week before racing begins. The racing season is still scheduled to begin May 6.


This is the latest fallout from negotiations between Arlington and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which filed suit in federal court this week against the racetrack, the Illinois Racing Board and the Illinois Breeders and Owners Foundation. The horsemen's association says the groups are "colluding" against it.

Sticking points

Arlington officials have said they're "dismayed" by the suit, and describe negotiations as ongoing. But sticking points, I've learned, include how much Arlington pays the group from purses, and the horsemen's association's request to audit the racetrack's purse account and to continue automatically withdrawing $25,000 annually from the purse account to fund its Galloping Out program for rehabilitating racehorses.

Partnering with a different group would cut the horsemen's association off from the share of purse money it would otherwise get, the main source of funding for the organization, and significantly hinder its ability to pay lobbyists' salaries and administer backstretch welfare programs. A 2015 report from the horsemen's association shows Arlington Park provided $466,164 of its $708,141 in revenue that year.

On the mend

Arlington Park Chairman Richard Duchossois.
Arlington Park Chairman Richard Duchossois. - Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer
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Meanwhile, the 94-year-old Arlington Chairman Richard Duchossois tells me he was in the hospital for a procedure last week and plans to work, for the next week or so, out of his home office while he's on the mend. I've heard the Barrington Hills business tycoon remark more than once that he has no plans to retire.


My colleague Mike Riopell had the scoop last week on how Gov. Bruce Rauner's education funding plan would affect suburban schools.

The data compiled by the Illinois State Board of Education shows schools in Carpentersville, Elgin and Aurora would gain big, but others in Aurora/Naperville, Addison and North Chicago would lose money.

But where are the numbers on another proposal by Democratic state Sen. Andy Manar that aims to level out inequities in the current funding system, announced earlier this year? Senate Democrats say they want to know.

"Information is obviously needed to have an informed debate," spokesman John Patterson said. "The sooner the Illinois State Board of Education can turn around numbers on the proposal sponsored by Sen. Manar, the sooner we can have that."


Put me in, coach

Cubs fans are petitioning owner Tom Ricketts to have 89-year-old Cubs Fan Dorothy Farrell sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley.
Cubs fans are petitioning owner Tom Ricketts to have 89-year-old Cubs Fan Dorothy Farrell sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley. - Associated Press File Photo

More than 2,200 Chicago Cubs fans have signed a Change.org petition to have beloved mega-fan Dorothy Farrell sing "Take Me out To the Ballgame" at Wrigley Field. The 89-year-old Farrell has spent game days in the same first-row seat in Section 31 of the ballpark since 1981. Wearing her glittery team regalia, she's known for her enthusiastic moves during the seventh-inning stretch and when Village People's "Y.M.C.A." is played. "This is a no brainer, Chicago Cubs. Let Dorothy Sing!" the petition reads.

Blast from the past

In 70 years, Ruth Reise got married, changed her last name and moved from Chicago to Wheaton. But Jack Ristow of Arlington Heights says he still knew she was the girl who worked alongside him at Douglas Aircraft and was featured in our recent piece about women who worked as "Rosie the Riveters" in World War II.

"I was going to Taft High School then and summers of 1944 and '45 I worked in the same plant location -- as a male -- Rosie Riveter.

"I believe this gal bucked steel bar to make rivets tight. She had to get inside tanks and wings (tight areas) and I was riveter on the outside with the air-operated hand gun. We had to go to the hanger area a couple of times to re-rivet before test flights," he wrote.

I had the happy task of reconnecting these old friends.

"It's nice to get to keep in touch," Reise told me after I shared the news with her.

Remembering Laura Liu

Illinois Appellate Court Judge Laura Liu died Friday at age 49.
Illinois Appellate Court Judge Laura Liu died Friday at age 49.

Belting out Pink's "Just Give Me a Reason" at her living room piano with her husband Mike is how I'll remember Illinois Appellate Court Judge Laura Liu, who died Friday after a long battle with cancer.

Professionally, she'll be remembered as the state's first Asian-American female judge, for the scores of legal options she wrote and for her compassionate work making the state's court system more accessible to immigrants and non-English speakers. But it's those accomplishments, combined with the sense of grace, fun and balance with which Liu lived her life, that made her truly unforgettable. Services are Monday at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

Tommy's comeback

Friday's a big night for Tommy Zbikowski, the standout Buffalo Grove High School football player who went on to play at Notre Dame and in the NFL, but became a Chicago firefighter last year after spending some time in rehab to deal with binge drinking. He's kept up an intense boxing training regimen on the side and returns to the ring for a 7 p.m. Friday fight at The Belvedere in Elk Grove Village. Proceeds go to benefit the family of fallen Chicago firefighter Dan Capuano, for whom Zbikowski committed to raise $10,000. Tickets can be purchased at hitzboxing.com and range from $50 to $110.

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