Golf Channel and union representing striking video/audio workers agree to new contract, end labor dispute

January 24, 2018
Sony Open In Hawaii - Final Round

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Eleven days after video and audio technicians who work on Golf Channel tournament broadcasts went on strike, the union representing these freelance employees reached an agreement with the network on a new contract. The two-year deal puts an end to the labor dispute between the two groups that impacted coverage of a handful of PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and Tour events.

Officials with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents more than 300 broadcast workers, said that the new contract is retroactive to June 13, 2017, when their previous contract with the Golf Channel expired. According to union officials, the new deal satisfied their desire for, among other things, improved wages and health-care contributions. The union had contended that wages had been “far below” the standard paid by other sports broadcasters. Union members ratified the new deal, specifics of which were not disclosed, over a three-day voting period that ended at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“Everyone who works in sports broadcasting will benefit from this contract because it raises the floor for all workers,” said IATSE International president Matthew D. Loeb in a press release.

Asked for comment about the deal, a Golf Channel spokesman provided the following statement: “Golf Channel appreciates that our tournament technicians are returning to work for events beginning Feb. 5. The ratified contract is fair and in line with industry standards, as had been true under the previous contract and prior to the union’s call for a strike that prompted some of its members to walk off the job. We are thankful to all of our staff who rallied to provide seamless and continuous tournament coverage throughout this labor dispute for golf fans worldwide.”

The two sides had been in negotiations for more than nine months, with IATSE members working without a contract for six months, according to the union. As the new year began, and Golf Channel resumed its tournament broadcasts, IATSE members began discussing the possibility of going on strike, a course of action they finally took on Jan. 14.

With workers walking off the job on a Sunday, the strike forced the Golf Channel to implement contingency plans as the network continued with its broadcast of a Tour event in the Bahamas, a PGA Tour Champions-sanctioned tournament in Orlando and the final round of the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Hawaii. The primary announcers throughout the five hours of prime-time live coverage from Waialae Country Club in Honolulu—George Savaricas, Billy Kratzert and Jim Gallagher Jr.—were actually not on scene, but rather sitting in Golf Channel’s main studio thousands of miles away in Orlando. Fewer cameras were in use for the broadcast, and there was no on-course commentary from announcers following the leaders.

Despite the scramble to put together the broadcast, with the Golf Channel and PGA Tour asking players and the public to have patience, ratings for the Sony Open final-round coverage were up 86 percent from 2017 and 13 percent form 2016, according to the Golf Channel.

In the days after the start of the strike, the network hired replacement workers to fill the missing positions. This allowed the network to return to more traditional coverage of last week’s CareerBuilder Challenge in Palm Springs and the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii.

The Golf Channel is fully staffed for this week’s coverage of the LPGA Tour’s season-opener in the Bahamas. Coverage of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open, where Tiger Woods is making his 2018 debut, will be unaffected as CBS is the primary broadcaster and uses video and audio technicians represented by a different union.