One month after Documented published an investigation into wage theft faced by the immigrant workers in New York’s horse racing industry, state regulators have announced new reforms they say will hold employers accountable.
At the New York State Gaming Commission meeting on Tuesday, Chairman Brian O’Dwyer announced the Commission will work with the state’s Department of Labor to identify horse trainers who are being investigated for wage theft and consider revoking their licenses.
All horse trainers in the state are required to hold such licenses to enter races at tracks like Saratoga and Belmont, but Documented’s recent story found the Commission allowed trainers to maintain their licenses even when they were found to have underpaid the backstretch workers they employ by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The new rule suggests there had not been a channel of communication between the Department of Labor, which investigates wage issues, and the Gaming Commission, which issues licenses, to flag problematic trainers. The reform aims to change that in order to “promptly identify any licensees engaging in bad labor practices,” according to Chairman O’Dwyer.
“This bridges the regulatory gap so that when we learn of trainers engaged in practices that shortchange their employees, we can consider action regarding the trainers’ licensure,” he said.
Documented’s investigation found more than 87 horse trainers had shortchanged over 1,800 workers tasked with caring for race horses between 2008 and 2022, in a largely immigrant workforce of just a few thousand. The workers were owed more than $4.4 million in back wages — some more than $20,000 each — and some trainers were repeat offenders. Trainers were also fined for immigration violations when they hired foreign guest workers through the H-2B program but failed to pay the promised wage.
It’s too soon to tell if trainers will ultimately lose licenses due to the reform. While the Commission will now be aware when trainers are being investigated for wage theft, the regulator will not automatically revoke licenses. It will instead go to the Commission for review, during which trainers are allowed to plead their case.