College athletes at private institutions should be classified as employees entitled to statutory protections, the National Labor Relations Board announced Wednesday in a move that could open the door for unionization.
The agency’s general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, issued a memo to all field offices outlining the change, which means college players are afforded protections when it comes to organizing and speaking out about their conditions, as outlined by the National Labor Relations Act.
Abruzzo also made it clear that they should not be referred to as “student-athletes,” arguing that it’s a misclassification that could lead them to believing they are not afforded those protections.
The policy change means university-level athletes could now have the right to unionize.
It comes after the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in June ruling against the NCAA that allowed for student athletes to receive some academic-related financial benefits — but stopped short of letting them be directly paid for playing on a team. Many college-level athletes became more vocal about their rights last year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests nationwide, something Abruzzo cited in her memo. The NLRB had previously dismissed an attempt by members of the Northwestern University football team to unionize in 2015.
“College Athlete ‘Employee’ Question Revived by NLRB Top Lawyer” (Bloomberg Law)