Legislation Would Allow College Athletes to Unionize

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The college sports landscape shifted again Thursday, as a pair of Democratic senators introduced a bill that would allow student-athletes the right to organize and collectively bargain.

The College Athletes Right to Organize Act, which was introduced by Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.), says, “To establish more equitable terms and conditions for college athletes’ labor, college athletes need representation of their own choosing to negotiate collective-bargaining agreements with their respective colleges and the athletic conferences that help set rules and standards across an entire league. To organize effectively, college athletes must be able to form collective bargaining units across institutions of higher education that compete against each other, including within athletic conferences; and, accordingly, to establish effective collective bargaining rights for college athletes under this Act, the National Labor Relations Act must be amended to cover both private and public institutions of higher education to the extent that college athletes attending such institutions fall within the definition of ‘employee’ under that Act, as amended by this Act.”

“Big-time college sports haven’t been ‘amateur’ for a long time, and the NCAA has long denied its players economic and bargaining rights while treating them like commodities,” Murphy said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.

 “College athletes are workers,” Sanders Tweeted. “They deserve pay, a union, and to own their own name, image, and likeness. We cannot wait for the NCAA to share its billions with the workers who create it. It is long past time we gave these workers the rights they deserve.”

The AP reported that the NCAA said the proposed bill would “directly undercut the purpose of college: earning a degree,” and added that “turning student-athletes into union employees is not the answer.”

Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Andy Levin (Mich.) and Lori Trahan (Mass.) introduced a companion bill that would amend the National Labor Relations Act to define college athletes receiving direct grant-in-aid from their schools as employees. Northwestern football players attempted to unionize last decade, but the National Labor Relations Board unanimously ruled in 2015 that athletes who receive grant-in-aid scholarships cannot form a union.

Related content: Ruling: Northwestern Players Cannot Unionize

College sports are also on the verge of allowing some athletes to earn compensation for their name, image and likeness. NIL laws in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and New Mexico are scheduled to begin July 1, bringing an end to the longstanding rules that college athletes are ineligible if they receive compensation from their name, image or likeness.

The NCAA Division I Council plans to act on legislative proposals regarding NIL during its June 22-23 meeting.

Related content: D-I Council Alters Transfer Waiver, Sets NIL Date

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