NCPA Files NLRB Charges for College Athlete Employee Status, Wages
This morning, the National College Players Association (NCPA) filed unfair labor practice charges with theNational Labor Relations Board against the NCAA, The Pac-12 Conference, UCLA, and USC as single and joint employers of FBS football players, Division I men’s basketball players, and Division I women’s basketball players. The goal is to affirm college athlete employee status for every FBS football player andDivision I basketball player at every public and private university in the nation.
The unfair labor practice charges cite unlawful prohibitions on protected employee speech and misclassifying college athlete employees as “student-athletes”. The NCPA’s actions follow a recent NLRBGeneral Counsel memo declaring that college athletes are employees.
University of Iowa basketball captain and Big Ten Conference’s all-time 3-point scorer Jordan Bohannon stated, “The NCAA invented the term ‘student-athlete’ to deny us college athletes protections under labor laws. That deception harms us physically, academically, and economically. I love playing forIowa. In fact, I love it so much I’m back finishing my 6th year. But the truth is that like all FBS football andDivision I basketball players, I am an employee of my school, conference, and the NCAA. My school treats my teammates and I very well, the University of Iowa is a good employer.” Bohannon was one of the basketball players who led the #NotNCAAProperty protest and met with NCAA President Mark Emmert during the NCAA’s 2021 March Madness Tournament.
NCPA Executive Director Ramogi Huma stated, “College athletes meet the definition of employee under labor law. They are highly skilled in their sport, paid scholarships and stipends to perform athletic services, and they perform their work under extensive control of their employer. These athletes deserve every right afforded to them under labor laws – just like other hard working Americans. College athlete employee status will be key, in part, because employees get paid.” Huma added, “Fairly compensating FBS football and Division I basketball players is a matter of economic justice for all of these athletes, and it’s a matter of racial justice in these three sports. Black athletes make up a majority of these rosters and face a disparate impact from NCAA sports’ illegal compensation prohibition. This is both a labor issue and a civil rights issue.”
In terms of unionization, it could be helpful for athletes and NCAA sports. Unionized professional sports leagues and players have a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that sets player compensation at a fair market rate of 50% of total revenue and comprehensive benefits. Without a CBA, such professional league compensation limits would be illegal, and these leagues would be faced with paying their players unlimited free market compensation. However, if athletes immediately unionized without a willingness to withhold their labor, they would be pushed into a bad CBA. Athletes will wield the most leverage toward a fair agreement by first establishing employee status, which will lead toward free market wages. Free market wages is a path that would give athletes maximum leverage to eventually seek a fair CBA withNCAA sports, which will become increasingly desperate to set wages in a uniform manner with manageable costs.
In his concurring opinion in the 9-0 US Supreme Court Alston v. NCAA antitrust lawsuit that the NCPA helped arrange, US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanuagh stated, “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.”
Bohannon stated, “When we’re recognized as employees, players will need to be informed about how to best leverage the free market for better treatment. Athletes that want to learn more should sign up for updates on the NCPA website.”
Huma stated, “The NCPA will continue to educate and assist athletes throughout this process.”
The NCPA also announced that it will be submitting a meeting request to US Secretary of Labor Marty
Walsh to discuss the employment status of college athletes.
United Steelworkers International President Tom Conway, stated, “The Steelworkers have supported the NCPA, college athletes, and this movement for over 20 years. We support this important campaign as well. NCAA sports should drop its resistance to treating college athletes as employees. A fair collective bargaining agreement would be a practical and legal solution. Regardless of the outcome, we stand with the NCPA and college athletes.”
Filing the charges today marks the launch of the NCPA’s “#JforJustice” campaign that will include advocacy and a series of actions to bring forth the enforcement of fair compensation, Title IX, health and safety standards, scholarships for Ivy League athletes, and preserving all sports. The NCPA will be making a series of important announcements in the weeks and months to come. The next campaign action will be in two weeks.