The National Labor Relations Board said some varsity athletes can be considered employees of their universities and can unionize under the National Labor Relations Act in a memorandum released Wednesday afternoon by the General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo.
The assertion updated the board’s guidelines on the statutory rights of athletes, as written in a 2017 ruling regarding Northwestern University football players who asked the board to unionize. . The board had “refused to exercise jurisdiction” over the petition due to “stability of labor relations” issues and refused to decide whether the players were considered employees, according to the memo.
The Abruzzo memo clarifies the second position. The memo says that athletes receiving scholarships in paid sports at private universities meet the NLRB’s criteria for employee status, a definition that the memo said was supported by the Supreme Court.
“The policies underlying the NLRA, the board of directors and the common law fully support the conclusion that some actors in academic institutions are statutory employees, who have the right to act collectively to improve their conditions of employment. “, the memo reads.
The NCAA released a statement Wednesday evening in which it refuted, without evidence, the board’s assessment.
“We strongly believe that varsity athletes are students who compete with other students, not employees who compete with other employees,” the statement said. “Like other students on a college or university campus who receive scholarships, those who participate in college sports are students.”
The statement said the NCAA is making “great strides in modernizing the rules for the benefit of college athletes,” despite the association’s well-documented reluctance to change, except by outside forces.
The NLRB update was inspired by “recent developments” in college athletics, according to a statement released with the Abruzzo rating. These developments include the rise of collective activism among college athletes, particularly around issues of racial justice, COVID-19 security protocols and name, image and likeness rights, the memo reads.
The Supreme Court ruling that college sports is a for-profit business and that the NCAA’s amateurism-based antitrust exemption claim is invalid also contributed to and supported the ruling, the memo said.
The memo introduced the term “college players” instead of “student-athlete,” a term Abruzzo claimed the NCAA “created to deprive these people of protections in the workplace.” The board will treat the continued use of “student-athlete” as a violation of the NLRA, the statement said.
Abruzzo said the memo was intended to inform the public and the NCAA of the NLRB’s position on these issues going forward.
“I expect this memo to notify the public, particularly academics, colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA players that I will take this legal position in future investigations and litigation under the law, ”Abruzzo said in the memo. .