The IBEW has had a strong relationship with its national broadcasting partners for decades. So, when PGA Tour Entertainment employees went looking for a union, they had a good idea where to turn.
PGA Tour Entertainment employees work inside the control room during a tournament. The IBEW successfully organized about 350 freelancers working for the company.
In December, they voted by more than 70% to accept IBEW representation following a yearlong organizing campaign by the Broadcasting and Membership Development departments. Contract negotiations begin soon and will add about 350 members to the Brotherhood when finished, Broadcasting International Representative Neil Ambrosio said.
"We know how to administer large agreements," Ambrosio said. "We know how to administer national agreements. We know how to build long-standing relationships with employers."
The tour employees "think they need a seat at the table, and they think we're the best people to sit beside them and improve things," he added.
The IBEW represents technicians at CBS and has had a professional relationship with it since 1939, when it was a radio company. The network has been the lead broadcaster of the PGA Tour for most of the last 52 years.
PGA Tour Entertainment is responsible for all in-house production for the tour. It has a handful of full-time employees, but like the major networks, it relies on freelancers based all over the country, particularly when it is working a live event.
It took on added responsibilities in 2022, the first year of a contract between the PGA and Disney that offered supplementary coverage of 28 tour events on ESPN+, the streaming service of Disney-owned ESPN.
The move is a boon for golf fanatics. PGA Tour Entertainment concentrates on marquee groupings and streams of individual holes, and its workers are responsible for those pictures and sounds. In that role, they often found themselves working alongside colleagues from CBS Sports, who enjoyed higher pay and enhanced job protections of a collective bargaining agreement — all while keeping a positive relationship between the IBEW and company management.
"I think they saw how we interacted with our partners on the PGA Tour and were impressed," Ambrosio said.
Still, that didn't guarantee an organizing win. Many of the tour employees were reluctant to speak with IBEW representatives in a public setting for fear of upsetting management and losing future assignments — an understandable reaction for a freelancer.
So the IBEW designed a website that prospective members could turn to for information. The card-signing process was done digitally, meaning those employees could vote on representation from the privacy of their homes, hotel rooms or wherever they chose.
Those involved in the campaign made it clear the PGA Tour workers could contact them at any time with questions.
"The ability to use online authorization cards really cleans up the process," said International Representative Joe Mastrogiovanni Jr., a lead organizer for the Third District who assisted with the effort. "You don't have to worry about what I call the hand-to-hand combat you often get. Sometimes, the only opportunity you get to approach someone is on the job, and a lot of times, people do not want that interaction. They're always looking over their shoulder."
Ambrosio said that's why the work of Mastrogiovanni and Workforce Recruitment Coordinator Craig Perica, who both handled the digital operations, was so important. So was the cooperation between Broadcasting, Membership Development and other departments, he said.
"We were fortunate to have a tremendous amount of resources and talented people to put this together," he said.
For his part, Mastrogiovanni said the campaign was going well before he got involved. But he agreed that the combination of the teamwork and the motivation of PGA Tour Entertainment employees put it over the top.
"This was a unique campaign in that there were a lot of moving parts," he said. "These employees are freelancers that get these different jobs that send them all over the country. Having the digital cards was a definitely factor.
"But all throughout the campaign, there really was overwhelming support. These people work at tournaments doing a lot of the same work our members [employed by CBS] do but they don't get the same pay and benefits. The only difference was they weren't IBEW members."
Retired International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who was still serving in that role when the vote was announced in December, welcomed the new bargaining unit to the Brotherhood.
"For as long as there has been a broadcast industry, the IBEW has been a part of it, giving voice to the men and women who keep it going, and it's an honor to have PGA Tour Entertainment professionals as part of our union," he said.
Ambrosio noted the PGA Tour Entertainment employees could have accepted representation from other unions.
"For me personally, that's what makes the success of this campaign even better," he said. "It's not about the numbers. It's about the fact that these television professionals had the choice of unions and they chose the IBEW. I think that's a recognition of how we do business and the relationships we have in the industry."
"The IBEW has a long history of representing workers in the broadcast industry, from radio and local television stations to sports and news, regionally and across the country," Broadcasting Director Robert Prunn said. "The decision by PGA Tour Entertainment's freelance employees to join us shows we understand the industry and work with our employer partners to benefit our members' lives.
"I'm excited and look forward to meeting our new members at a remote site in the near future."