The view from inside PGA Tour Entertainment’s production facilities. The IBEW successfully negotiated a first contract that will cover about 400 freelance technicians working for the company. Photo by PGA Tour Entertainment.

The IBEW officially began its partnership with PGA Tour Entertainment just before Christmas, when employees and freelance technicians working for the company overwhelmingly approved a first contract.

The vote came one year after members of the new bargaining unit accepted IBEW representation and is believed to be the first collective bargaining agreement between a broadcast union and a major pro sports league or tour.

"There are unions that represent players within leagues but a broadcasting agreement between the IBEW and a professional sports tour is unprecedented," Broadcasting Director Robert Prunn said.

The deal will increase wages, putting the members in line with the salary scale used by the broadcast networks televising golf, including CBS. The IBEW has had a professional relationship with CBS dating to 1939, when it was a radio company.

It also formalizes working conditions, including breaks on the job and overtime pay, that had not been recognized by PGA Tour Entertainment as it grew from a small operation to one that is heavily involved in televising golf all over the world. The three-year agreement covers about 400 technicians and a handful of full-time employees.

"It made sense to go in this direction," said camera operator Mike Smole, a member of Dallas Local 69 who has freelanced for PGA Tour Entertainment almost from its inception in 1998. He served on the negotiations committee.

"At the beginning, we were a small operation and maybe a union wasn't as necessary," Smole added. "But the bigger you get, you find more people have an interest in it. It became an entity where we believe we needed representation."

Besides Smole, other members of the negotiations committee were Cincinnati Local 1224's Eric Grubb; Hollywood, Calif., Local 45's Mike Treber; and New York Local 1212's Ryan Gorsuch. They were assisted by Prunn and International Representatives Neil Ambrosio and Dominick Macchia.

"The committee members were totally committed to securing a first agreement for all of the technicians and all the utilities working on the tour," Prunn said. "Throughout the bargaining process, their insight into the golf broadcast and experiences as technicians were invaluable to reaching this first agreement."

With an increased workload, those technicians wanted a contract that put them more in line with colleagues covering professional golf for the traditional networks.

"In our industry, the idea behind getting some union representation is that all too often, the company will overwork the employee or ask him to do something he's not trained to do," Treber said. "Our thought in getting a contract was keeping it along the lines of what we have with CBS and Fox Sports [where the IBEW also represents technicians].

"In saying that, what this basically does is give the employees a voice. If you don't have some kind of voice, [management] is going to do what is best for the company, not necessarily your family."

The push for representation increased in 2022, when the PGA began a deal with Disney that offered supplementary coverage of 28 tour events on ESPN+, the streaming service of Disney-owned ESPN.

With that, technicians working for PGA Tour Entertainment found themselves working more hours for lower pay than counterparts working for CBS and the other networks, even when they sometimes were stationed next to them on the course.

The PGA had an educated workforce, too. Most of those freelancers had union representation when working for other entities, so they knew the benefits of the IBEW.

"I like that we have an agreement on paper so that both sides know what is expected of each other," said Grubb, who also has been with PGA Tour Entertainment almost from its inception and has worked for the networks. "There's no gray area. It's all in print. That's the biggest thing we obtained: a contract between the two of us, and we both know what is expected."

Added Smole: "It wasn't an unhealthy workplace. The PGA Tour was like a family and still is to a certain extent. But we all come from unions, and I think that's the way to go when you are working with a large group."

First-contract negotiations with a company are often tense and drawn out in any industry. But all the bargaining committee members said that wasn't the case with PGA Entertainment, foreshadowing a productive relationship for years.

The company didn't ask for any givebacks. It didn't use its ongoing discussions with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour to resist any requests from the committee. Gorsuch noted that the PGA continues to offer a strong health insurance plan to freelancers who qualify.

"All the things we loved about our current situation, we didn't lose any of it," he said. "Everyone can say the wage increase is paramount, but what I think is important is the security we now have."

Grubb, who has worked in broadcasting for 36 years, echoed those thoughts, adding that Ambrosio, Macchia and Prunn were especially helpful. Ambrosio led the initial organizing efforts.

"Just a great group of down-to-earth guys," he said. "I'm a very emotional guy, and they would talk me off the ledge sometimes when I got a little too passionate. The common sense they brought to the table, and knowing they had done this before, is why we went with the IBEW."

Added Prunn: "One of the most important things this committee did was to begin a good working relationship with the tour. They understand the IBEW wants our employers to succeed and they will play a role in that success. I couldn't be prouder to have assisted this work and look forward to working with these members for years to come."