College athletes are employees and have the right to unionize, NLRB says
College football players and some other athletes in revenue-producing sports are employees of their schools, the National Labor Relations Board’s top lawyer said in a memo Wednesday that would allow players at private universities to unionize and otherwise negotiate over their working conditions.
NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo also threatened action against schools, conferences and the NCAA if they continue to use the term “student-athlete,” saying that it was created to obscure the employment relationship with college athletes and discourage them from pursuing their rights.
“The freedom to engage in far-reaching and lucrative business enterprises makes players at academic institutions much more similar to professional athletes who are employed by a team to play a sport, while simultaneously pursuing business ventures to capitalize on their fame and increase their income,” the memo said.
Neither the NCAA nor representatives for the five largest athletic conferences immediately responded to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
The nine-page NLRB memo revisited a case involving Northwestern football players who were thwarted from forming a union when the board in 2015 said that taking their side “would not promote stability in labor relations.”
Abruzzo’s memo noted that much has changed since the then, including an unanimous Supreme Court decision this year that lifted restrictions on some forms of compensation for college athletes.
Abruzzo also noted that players across the country had engaged in collective action following the killing of George Floyd—actions that “directly concerns terms and conditions of employment, and is protected concerted activity.”
—AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.
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