Strike shanks golf coverage

NEW YORK — A 24-hour grievance strike by a technical union left ABC unable to cover a major golf tournament Saturday, the first preemption based on a work stoppage in the network’s history.

The strike by National Assn. of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians New York Local 16 came with little warning, when picket lines were set up at 6 a.m. in Houston, six hours before ABC was to begin airing the PGA Tour championship played at the Champions Cypress Creek course there.

In place of the late-round coverage, due to run from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Pacific time (1 to 3:30 p.m. Eastern), ABC aired a rerun of the 1995 PGA Tour’s final round, with commentators advising viewers of the problem and updating news from the live event they couldn’t cover.

The final championship round of the PGA Tour, which offered the richest purse in golf history, aired as scheduled on Sunday at 11 a.m. local time. But Saturday’s cancellation will doubtless result in diminished ratings and force ABC to offer replacement spots to advertisers for the shortfall, potentially worth millions in lost revenue. ABC’s sales department will meet today to map its plans.

The union had warned ABC Saturday morning of a possible strike at one of three locations, including the Houston tournament as well as college football sites, but the network was unable to plan far enough ahead to cover the event with supervisory staff. “It’s tough to have standby crews everywhere,” a spokeswoman said.

NABET officials were said to blame the action on an earlier suspension of a union employee who was under investigation for tampering with job postings and allegedly lying to his superiors.

“They took a 6-month-old grievance — clearly a pretext — and were flexing their muscle” to pressure ABC into a new agreement, the network spokeswoman said. “Their point should be made at the negotiating table … not at a golf tournament in Houston.”

Union officials couldn’t be reached for comment. But ABC said NABET employees have been working without a new contract since March 31, and on-and-off negotiations have taken place since January, with another session due in two weeks.

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