Pac-12 Networks strike hurts jobs

Danielle Shi/Staff

We are now in year two of the Pac-12 Networks, a bold venture that gives our 12 universities their own media company. Our focus is to provide unprecedented exposure for all student-athletes and, just as importantly, learning and paid internship opportunities for thousands of Pac-12 students. Unfortunately, those opportunities are being threatened by the labor union whose fliers you may have recently seen around campus.

Because this issue affects you so directly, I want to share with you what is at stake and the position we have taken — one we believe protects our mission and provides first-rate wages and working conditions for both union workers and other professionals. I also want to share with you why I am so personally committed to preserving these opportunities for Pac-12 students.

First, a bit of background on where the Pac-12 Networks and the union disagree, and where we don’t. This isn’t a strike. In fact, we’ve hired, and continue to hire, hundreds of members of the union — the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees — as camera operators, sound engineers and other technical jobs for our game telecasts. And we pay them rates that meet or exceed the prevailing wage in each of the areas where we operate.

The crux of the disagreement is that the union wants us to engage only union members, and we can’t agree to that. A commercial model of the type the union wants to impose is not viable when the goal is not just to make money but also to provide exposure to traditionally underserved student-athletes, especially women and participants in Olympic sports. Student interns enable those sports to be broadcast while many union members and other professionals are engaged, especially for major revenue-producing sports such as football and basketball. This flexibility is win-win for everyone.

But to me, the most important reason is that it would deny thousands of students the life-changing opportunity of a paid internship in TV production. This is not only a core part of the Pac-12 Networks mission; it is a core part of who I am and why I love being here.

I fell in love with TV sports as a kid watching ABC’s legendary Wide World of Sports. I learned more about what happens behind the camera when, as a member of the U.S. speed-skating team, I was lucky enough to be able to hang out with the crew on the production truck. Then, through the Medill News Service at Northwestern University, I had the chance to do just about everything: write, produce, run camera, even appear on air (which I later decided wasn’t for me).

Without those crucial opportunities, I don’t think I would have had the career I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy. Providing similar opportunities for you and thousands of your fellow students around the Pac-12 is, by far, the single most rewarding thing I do. It is what makes this job and Pac-12 Networks different from any other TV network or sports enterprise I know of.

We plan to do even more for students. I want those of you who work with us to touch every part of the process and learn as many positions as you can. That’s why we already use students in so many different ways, including as stage managers, camera operators and even on-air talent. Ultimately, we want our Pac-12 Studios to become a teaching facility and media lab for Pac-12 students. The restrictive hiring and work rules of a union shop would strangle that initiative, and thousands of our students would pay the price, not only today but in future opportunities foreclosed.

Fortunately, there’s no reason to let that happen. Our unique and flexible model is providing crucial student opportunities and well-paying jobs for professionals. Last year, in our very first year of operation, we created more than 13,000 daily hire positions. This year, as we increase our coverage to 750 events, that number will increase to 15,000. We’ve demonstrated that we can do the right thing for our employees while also fulfilling our mission for our student-athletes, financially benefiting our member universities and providing career-building, life-changing experiences to students.

And that’s exactly what a network affiliated with 12 great universities should be doing.

Lydia Murphy-Stephans is president of Pac-12 Networks.