Golf Channel, union still at odds as strike continues

HONOLULU, HI - JANUARY 14: A NBC Golf Channel camera operator is seen during the final round of the Sony Open In Hawaii at Waialae Country Club on January 14, 2018 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Golf Channel, union still at odds as strike continues

Golf on TV

Golf Channel, union still at odds as strike continues

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Golf Channel and representatives of its technicians union spent most of Tuesday negotiating a new contract, but were unable to reach a deal to end a strike that began two days earlier.

The strike forced Golf Channel to cobble together 19 hours of live tournament coverage Sunday from Hawaii, the Bahamas and Orlando with skeleton staffs. By Monday, Golf Channel had installed replacement workers to cover the final two rounds of a Web.com Tour event in the Bahamas, and plans to do the same at tournaments in California and Hawaii Jan. 18-21.

“Our contingency plans are fully operational …,” Golf Channel spokesman David Schaefer said. “We will continue to deliver coverage with this week’s full slate of tournaments, as well as support the union members who have chosen to come back to work.”

The dispute between Golf Channel and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents about 350 technicians, has been simmering for several years.

Randy Koury, a Golf Channel cameraman and union steward, said that the technicians already were unhappy with two changes Golf Channel made to pay and benefits four years ago, after it was folded into the NBC Sports Group: cutting the work day from 10 hours to 8 hours – effectively a 20 percent pay cut – and eliminating catering of two meals without increasing the per diem.

Koury said those changes “were the tipping point” that led the technicians to unionize. These technicians are involved in all aspects of live productions, including cameras, audio, video, utilities, fiber and video capture and playback.

The union’s first two-year contract expired in June 2017. At that point, according to Koury, Golf Channel switched the workers’ health care to COBRA, resulting in a price hike, and adjusted the workweek to align with NBC’s staff. The result of the latter move, Koury said, is roughly one day’s lost pay per week for Golf Channel technicians.

Golf Channel’s position on the healthcare issue is that the union negotiated a sunset of the corporate plan in the original contract, with members migrating to the union’s benefit plan.

Koury said two sticking points in the negotiations involve raising wages for audio and utility crafts workers and eliminating a two-tier wage system, which the union fears could lead to lower-paid workers displacing more experienced technicians.

Koury said the union has rejected two contract proposals, in October and again this month, by more than 86 percent.

He said his union and Golf Channel made progress during a December bargaining session on the healthcare and workweek issues, but not on pay for audio and utilities workers.

“If that happens, we’re happily going back to work,” he said.

On Jan. 13, the union voted down a contract proposal and authorized a strike beginning the next day. At noon Jan. 14, technicians received an email from Golf Channel production manager Tavi Wright reading, “Please be advised that a striking employee will not be traveled to his or her next assignment, unless he or she makes an unconditional offer to return to work by 3 p.m. EST today.”

Golf Channel subsequently sent the technicians home early and put its contingency plans in motion.

Koury said he is hopeful the union can hammer out a new proposal to present to its members.

“As soon as we get a contract proposal, we’ll bring it to membership and come back to work,” he said.

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