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Labor Case Asserts College Athletes Should Be Employees

  • A victory would give athletes the right to unionize, experts said.
  • Then, collective bargaining for wages and other labor protections could begin.
NCAA
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY/Design: Alex Brooks

The National College Players Association recently filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing USC, UCLA, the Pac-12, and the NCAA of misclassifying some athletes as amateurs, not employees.

The charge aims to “affirm college athlete employee status” for all Division I basketball and FBS football players, the NCPA said. It’s the second complaint filed since NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo released a pro-athlete employment memo in September. 

A victory would only be the first step to getting athletes salaries, however. It would give athletes the right to unionize, attorney Joshua Frieser and Boise State law professor Sam Ehrlich told Front Office Sports. Then, collective bargaining for wages and other labor protections could begin.

The process could take up to a year or more, experts said:

  • First, a regional office will investigate whether the charge is worth pursuing.
  • If it isn’t thrown out, it’ll be heard at the regional and potentially even national level. 

USC stated that it is “aware of the charge and are reviewing it.” The NCAA, Pac-12, and UCLA did not comment.

NCPA Strategy

The NCPA’s goal hinges on whether the NLRB, which only has jurisdiction over the private sector, claims power over public school athletes.

The NLRB likely won’t claim authority over UCLA, experts agreed. So it would have to consider the Pac-12 or NCAA private sector entities who employ athletes alongside schools.

The charge’s strength could also lie in the allegations against the chosen schools — and whether the schools’ players support it, Ehrlich said.

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