Feb
3
2015
Caddies file lawsuit against PGA Tour over wearing bibs with sponsored logos
By Stephanie Wei under Caddies
Kevin Na's longtime caddie Kenny Harms is one of the lead complainants in the suit

Kevin Na’s longtime caddie Kenny Harms is one of the lead complainants in the suit

More than 80 professional golf caddies have filed a class-action federal lawsuit in Northern California against the PGA Tour, seeking compensation for being forced to wear bibs emblazoned with sponsored logos. The caddies allege that the Tour is earning $50 million a year from the sponsors while they receive nothing in return for serving as “human billboards.” 

The crux of the complaint is that the caddies, who are required to wear bibs plastered with sponsored logos, cause them to miss out on their own endorsement deals and prevent them from earning sponsorship dollars that could be used for family health insurance and retirement plans. PGA Tour officials previously polled professional players about whether they would be willing to fire their caddies if they refuse to wear the bibs, according to the complaint.

“This lawsuit is intended to protect the rights of caddies who are required to endorse tour sponsors with zero compensation from the PGA Tour,” says sports law attorney Eugene “Gene” Egdorf of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston, lead counsel for the caddie plaintiffs. “Any working professional deserves to be paid based on the income they generate, but that’s not happening on the PGA Tour.”

Caddies are not employed by the PGA Tour, rather they are independent contractors employed by the golfers they aid. However, the PGA Tour’s regulations seemingly allow caddies to endorse their own sponsors, but their options are limited when they are covered by a bib plastered with other companies’ logos. The caddies also have never given their consent to the Tour for “commercial use of their likenesses or images.”

Additionally, the suit alleges that the Tour has treated caddies as “second-class participants of the game.”  The complaint details an incident that occurred at The Barclays event in 2013, when during a rain delay, caddies and some members of their families retreated to a shelter designated for caddies. Although the area was not crowded, security officials entered it and demanded to see identification and began to shout and berate caddies and their families. While caddies who showed their credentials were allowed to remain in the shelter, the caddies’ wives and children were put out into the rain by security personnel.

The origins of the lawsuit begin with a group of caddies that formed the Association of Professional Tour Caddies (APTC) last year to improve their working conditions and week-to-week treatment, and most important, to secure healthcare and retirement benefits. Over the past year, APTC officers have been working with the PGA Tour to come up with a solution to fund the latter through securing some of the revenue obtained by the advertising dollars from the bibs. However, after several meetings with the Tour, it became clear to the board members of the APTC that the negotiations were not going anywhere and they felt compelled to take further action.

Veteran caddies Mike Hicks (who is now retired) and Kenny Harms, who works for Kevin Na, are named as the lead plaintiffs in the suit. (The case is Hicks, et al. v. PGA Tour Inc., No. 3-15-CV-00489.)

Harms, who serves on the board of the APTC, said he and other board members met with the Tour a year ago during the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, and when the bib was brought up, Tour representatives specifically said it was “off limits.” The following month at the Valspar Championship in Tampa, Harms met with Andy Pazder, the Executive Vice President and Chief of Operations for the Tour, who reiterated that revenue from the bib was not on the table.

“One of the big problems with them having a bib on every single caddie is that it restricts our advertising or revenue for actually getting our own sponsors,” said Harms in a phone interview. “No one is going to pay a caddie to wear a sponsor if the bib is going to be over the top of it. Second of all, that bib is ours. It’s on our body. There is no other group of people in the U.S. where you are creating revenue and not getting paid for it.” 

Harms, along with APTC president James Edmondson, who caddies for Ryan Palmer, and APTC secretary Adam Hayes, who loops for Russell Henley, met with Pazder again at last season’s Tour Championship.

“That’s when I brought up the number of $4 million if they want to keep the bib,” said Harms. “How I came up with this number, there are approximately 195-200 caddies that caddie in 15 tournaments on the PGA Tour a year — that stipulates you are able to get health insurance and the player has to play in 15 tournaments to get health insurance and retirement (according to PGA Tour regulations). I came up with the number of $10,000 for health insurance and $10,000 for retirement. We thought it was more than fair.”

This time, Pazder told the group that he was going to get behind them on the issue with the bibs and bring up the numbers the caddies had in mind for their health insurance and retirement at a player meeting — which Commissioner Tim FInchem would be attending — during the Frys.com Open last October. Unfortunately, Harms was told by players who were present that Pazder only brought up a raise for healthcare and didn’t touch on the other topics.

“The bib is worth a significant amount of money and all we’re asking for is what is fair,” said Harms. “We’re not being greedy. This is about what is fair and what the law is. They put us in the position where we had to move forward. It’s been a year, so we have decided that the only way to get anything done is to hire a law firm, which we have done, and we filed the suit.”

Harms also explained the basis of the $50 million per year that the caddies are asking for in the lawsuit. Two tournament directors informed members of the APTC board that they were told by the Tour they were getting $1 million of advertising per week for bibs worn by the caddies.

“The $50 million is an estimated number,” said Harms. “We want to bring it in front of the courts and we’ll find out what exactly that value is through different avenues of people who are experts in that field. What we’ve learned is that the sponsors are being told that they are getting a million dollars of advertising from the caddies each week. If there are 45 tournaments, that’s $45 million, so a rounded number would be $50 million.”

Harms emphasized that all the caddies involved just want what is fair.

“We’re the only ones that create revenue and don’t get paid for it in the whole United States,” he said. “If you think about it, everyone gets paid for it. This is part of our body, this is our likeness and it doesn’t belong to the PGA Tour.

“We’re going to put it in front of the courts and they’re going to decide and whatever that value is, we don’t want any more and we don’t want any less. They put us in this position. If they would work with us, we would’ve never been in this position. It was clear that the only step we had is where we went. 

“We’re not asking for anything that we don’t deserve…Let me reiterate that we are asking for what’s fair — we don’t want anything more or anything less than what we’re worth.”

Some of the more high-profile caddies have endorsement deals with club manufacturers and other companies, but it is restricted to logos on the hat and shirt sleeve — which are overshadowed by the caddie bib, says Harms.

“During two weeks when Kevin (Na) wasn’t playing, I sat and watched the TV and I realized that the hat is only worth 10-15% of what that bib is worth,” he said. “On TV you can barely read the hat most of the time, but that bib is clear as day and that’s why the PGA Tour doesn’t want to relinquish control of it. That sponsorship is huge and there’s a lot of exposure there. They’re telling the sponsors that they’re getting a million dollars of advertising off the caddies. Well, there’s a reason why they’re not letting go of that bib.”

The lawyers for the caddies also filed a separate motion seeking an injunction against the PGA Tour from retaliation against them. According to the suit, threats have been implied that caddies pushing this issue will lose their credentials.

Harms said Pazder had a meeting with Na that had nothing to do with the APTC, but at the end of it, Pazder asked Na if he knew what his caddie was doing.

“Kevin said, ‘Andy let me tell you something,'” Harms recounted. “‘Kenny isn’t doing this for himself; he is very well off. He doesn’t need this. He’s doing it for the guys that do need it, the guys who can’t afford health care, the guys who don’t have a retirement; and I’m 100% behind him.’ Andy didn’t say another word.”

Asked for comment and to confirm the details outlined by Harms over the past year, Pazder replied in an email,  “I’m not at liberty to comment given it’s an active lawsuit.”

The caddies are not looking for trouble with their players and will continue to wear the bibs issued by the Tour — because otherwise they can’t work.

“Let me make it clear that there’s no way in the world we’re going to jeopardize anything with our player,” said Harms. “Our player comes first. We are not going to not put on the bib because that’s going to cause problems for the player. There’s no way we want to draw any attention or cause any problem with our player.

“I think if you ask the players how many of them think their caddie should have health care or retirement, I’d be surprised if you find one that doesn’t.”

Chatter about the lawsuit quickly became a hot topic among players at Torrey Pines on Tuesday.

“My caddie’s like my brother,” said Pat Perez during his presser. “I have known him a long, long time. And I want the best for him. I try to take care of him like a brother. I’ve always looked out for him and tried to do everything I can for him. He’s not involved with (the lawsuit) and he didn’t want to get involved with it, because he didn’t want to be a distraction for me.

“But I think that there’s a case there — we were just talking about it. Even at lunch, why do those guys have to pay for lunch? Why, what does that caddie wagon cost to run a week? Nothing. With all the money the Tour has? Why do they have to pay for lunch? You can’t give them a $3 sandwich? They’re not allowed in the clubhouse.

“They’re forced to wear these bibs for sponsors. What do they get out of the sponsors? What do they get out of wearing it? Nothing. It’s one thing if they choose, if there’s a choice to wear a bib. But they’re told they have to wear the bib. And a lot of them don’t want to wear them. You know what, I think they kind of have a case here where, if the Tour’s going to force them to do it, then maybe they should pay them something every week to do it or the sponsor pay them something.”

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Click here to read the full complaint.