In an answer to the question of whether college athletes are employees, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) director in Chicago said Northwestern University football players receiving grant-in-aid scholarships, are considered employees and have the right to vote to unionize. With this ruling, many questions have arisen as to its application and implications.
First, it is important to examine why college athletes would want to be considered employees. Classification as employees permits a vote for unionization, which the Northwestern athletes seek to ensure the school treats them fairly. Their main concerns are health and safety of athletes, especially reduction in the risk of brain trauma. They are also concerned that players are taken advantage of, considering the vast amount of money the school makes in revenue off of football, compared to the worth of the athletes’ education. These athletes are looking for a way to voice their concerns and to protect themselves physically and financially.
The decision only affects athletes at private schools, not public universities. The NLRB does not have jurisdiction over public universities. Players at public schools would need to appeal to their state’s labor board. It also only applies to athletes receiving grant-in-aid scholarships, which typically pay for the athletes’ tuition, fees, room, board, and books.
Northwestern will appeal the ruling to the full NLRB in Washington, which has not weighed in on the finding yet. Until the full NLRB rules on the matter, it is uncertain how private college sports will be affected. As it stands, the current ruling could have implications for other private universities with major-college football programs, but only 17 private schools field football teams in the NCAA’s top division. Nevertheless, characterizing athletes as employees will probably mean athletes will have to pay income taxes, and other school sports, which football revenue largely funds, could face large financial cuts.
There is a grave importance in knowing one’s rights as an employee.Our office has handled well over a thousand employment related matters. If you have a potential wage, safety, or health concern at work, we can help. Call our office at 1-877-219-8481.