Home Sport Der Versuch einer Athletengewerkschaft in Dartmouth gewinnt an Fahrt

Der Versuch einer Athletengewerkschaft in Dartmouth gewinnt an Fahrt

von NFI Redaktion

On Tuesday, the Dartmouth Men’s Basketball team became the latest college team to attempt to unionize – voting 13 to 2 to join the Service Employees Union Local 560, which currently represents other Dartmouth employees. With unions gaining popularity – with more than two-thirds of Americans and 88 percent of those under 30 supporting unions – could the unionization of Dartmouth set a precedent for college athletes?

The biggest push for student athlete unionization came in 2015 when Northwestern’s football team applied for union organizing with the National Labor Relations Board – and were denied, citing concerns about competitive equality and unknown effects on NCAA rules. Notably, the NLRB did not rule on whether student athletes are university employees, leaving the door open for other teams to make that argument. Unfortunately for Northwestern’s players, a union could have reportedly helped address the toxic culture of harassment that existed under former head coach Pat Fitzgerald, prompting some to seek NLRB to reopen the case.

However, last month, an NLRB Regional Director determined that Dartmouth basketball players were university employees, granting them the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining with the college. In her finding, NLRB Regional Director Laura Sacks said, „Since Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the Dartmouth men’s basketball team and the players perform this work for compensation, I find that the basketball players in question are employees within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act.“

Dartmouth has filed an appeal with the full NLRB, hoping to overturn Sacks‘ decision, and there are several hurdles the team must overcome before achieving union recognition and engaging in collective bargaining with the school. However, unlike the perception that Northwestern’s attempt at unionization was a noble effort, Dartmouth’s effort to organize seems viable, especially as more workers nationwide (particularly at Amazon and Starbucks) fight for worker equality with significant victories for United Auto Workers, SAG-AFTRA, and Hollywood Writers Guild (WGA). The media industry is currently experiencing its own labor movement, with employees from MSNBC and CBS News Digital recently joining a host of other media companies (including both G/O Media’s unions, the GMG Union and the Onion Union) under the WGA banner.

Of course, the entire NLRB may side with Dartmouth, which argues that „athletic activity is part of the educational experience,“ and that „classifying these students as employees simply because they play basketball is as unprecedented as it is incorrect.“ Therefore, we do not believe union organizing is appropriate.“ The case could end up in federal court, leading to months, if not years, of legal battles where the issue could lose momentum, as was the case after Northwestern’s dismissal by the NLRB a decade ago. But with the NCAA’s tepid acceptance of NIL deals within its ranks and no less an authority than Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (yes, that Kavanaugh) writing about the NCAA, „Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with paying their workers less than a fair-market wage on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers fair-market wages.“

Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion was in NCAA v. Alston, where the court unanimously ruled that NCAA restrictions on providing student athletes with non-cash compensation violate antitrust laws, but at least one Supreme Court justice seems to lean towards the „student athletes are employees“ camp. Kavanaugh outright referred to student athletes as „their workers,“ strongly suggesting that student athletes out there are performing in the name and benefit of their school.

But beyond the legal battles, there appears to be a fundamental shift in how America views student athletes. As more working Americans watch billion-dollar CEOs get richer while the rest of us are constantly threatened with layoffs, the argument that a degree is sufficient compensation for playing college sports doesn’t hold up as well as it used to. Sure, many middle-aged dads out there still gripe about how they had to pay for their own college tuition, but there’s a deeper understanding in the general population of how much money schools make off players – Division I athletics generated $15.8 billion in 2019, and you can bet that number has increased since. USA Today found that the Power Five conferences will pay their head coaches an average of $6.2 million in 2024 – nearly 15 percent more than two years ago. When was the last time you got a 15 percent raise?

It’s becoming increasingly evident to the public that there are plenty of adults making an absolute fortune on the backs of teenagers, many of whom come from disadvantaged communities, and that’s not right. Is Dartmouth the canary in the coal mine for the college athletics establishment? It might be. In 2023, the NLRB office in Los Angeles received a complaint against the University of Southern California, the PAC-12, and the NCAA, saying they should be compelled to reclassify student athletes as „school employees.“ This case is still winding its way through the federal courts, and for now, all eyes are on Dartmouth.

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