College athletes advocacy group files unfair labor charges against schools, NCAA

A college athletes advocacy group on Tuesday filed charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board against UCLA, Southern California, the Pac-12 Conference and the Indianapolis-based NCAA.

The goal is to get the NLRB to rule that Division I football and men’s and women’s basketball players across the country—not only at UCLA and USC—are employees who deserve fair-market compensation, said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, which filed the charges.

It is the first step in a legal strategy that the group hopes will lead to free-market wages for athletes in the revenue-producing Division I sports, as well as leverage for those athletes to broker a collective bargaining agreement with the NCAA, which governs college sports.

“The NCAA has been exploiting college athletes for many years and has refused to make significant change when it comes to fair compensation and athletes’ health and safety and medical bills,” Huma said by phone. “This action is part of paving a path forward.”

In a statement released in conjunction with Tuesday’s filing, Huma said college athletes meet the definition of employee status under labor law.

“They are highly skilled in their sport, [are] paid scholarships and stipends to perform athletic services, and they perform their work under extensive control of their employer,” Huma said.

As such, he suggested, Division I football and basketball players, whose labor bankrolls their schools’ athletic departments, deserve the same labor-law protections that other Americans enjoy, including the right to negotiate for better working conditions and benefits.

Moreover, because Black athletes account for the majority of Division I football and basketball players, Huma noted, they face disproportionate harm from the NCAA’s restraints on their compensation.

“This is both a labor issue and a civil rights issue,” said Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who for more than two decades has advocated for college athletes’ rights and protections.

The charges were filed largely in response to a Sept. 29 memo issued by the NLRB’s general counsel declaring that certain college athletes are, in fact, employees. In that memo, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo wrote that the board considered college football players and other athletes in revenue-generating sports to be employees of their schools, complete with the right to unionize and negotiate for better working conditions and benefits.

Abruzzo also declared the term student-athlete a “misclassification” that she argued leads revenue-generating athletes to believe they’re not entitled to the same labor protections that other Americans have under the National Labor Relations Act. She suggested that the use of the term, coined by the NCAA in the 1950s to further the notion that college athletes are not employees, had “a chilling effect” and may, in itself, violate the act.

The NLRB is an independent federal agency that enforces labor law in relation to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices. Based in Washington, it has regional offices throughout the country where workers, employers and unions can file charges.

The National College Players Association cited USC and UCLA in its filing because it submitted the charges in the NLRB office serving Southern California. It also wanted to include a public and private university to expand the action’s reach, and it characterized the Pac-12 and the NCAA as “joint employers” with the goal of extending any NLRB ruling on the matter to encompass all Division I schools, both public and private.

In 2015, the NLRB prevented Northwestern football players from becoming the first college team to form a union by refusing to rule on the question of whether scholarship players are employees.

Abruzzo’s memo signaled a different posture from the Biden administration, suggesting the board might consider the question anew amid legal challenges to the NCAA’s limitations on athletes’ rights and compensation. Abruzzo’s position was strengthened by the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in NCAA v. Alston, which characterized college sports as a profit-making enterprise and expanded the types of education-related compensation athletes could receive.

In its statement issued in conjunction with the NLRB charges, the National College Players Association cited the concurring opinion of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in Alston. He wrote, “Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate.”

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3 thoughts on “College athletes advocacy group files unfair labor charges against schools, NCAA

  1. “Moreover, because Black athletes account for the majority of Division I football and basketball players, Huma noted, they face disproportionate harm from the NCAA’s restraints on their compensation.”

    “disproportionate harm”???? How about “disproportionate benefit” from the scholarships and education they get???

    1. Well if you think about it, the value they provide for the schools far exceeds the cost of their education. These kids are filling up arenas and playing on national television in front of millions.

  2. Provide college athletes a 1099 form for the cost of tuition, housing, food, books, etc……if they want compensation they also get the responsibility of paying taxes on that income.

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