NLRB: “Certain” College Athletes Are Employees, Have Right To Unionize

National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memo Wednesday asserting that “certain” college athletes are statutory employees and should be given the right to unionize, among other protections.

Abruzzo also says that misclassifying the employees simply as “student-athletes” misleads them into believing they are not entitled to employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act, and therefore has a chilling effect on employee rights.

“Players at Academic Institutions perform services for institutions in return for compensation and subject to their control,” Abruzzo wrote.

Federal laws and NLRB policies, she continued, “Fully support the conclusion that certain players at Academic Institutions are statutory employees, who have the right to act collectively to improve their terms and conditions of employment.

“My intent in issuing this memo is to help educate the public, especially players at Academic Institutions, colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and the NCAA, about the legal position that I will be taking regarding employee status and misclassification in appropriate cases.”

Abruzzo, who was named to a four-year term under the Biden administration as the General Counsel of the NLRB in July, says she will “pursue an independent violation” of the Act in specific situations when employers misclassify players as student-athletes.

In 2017, the NLRB issued a memo stating that football players at private universities competing at the highest level in the NCAA were employees. After declining to intervene in a specific case involving Northwestern University, the memo was withdrawn later that year by the Trump administration.

Abruzzo pointed to recent changes in the collegiate athletes’ economic landscape, including the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling that the NCAA can’t bar modest payments to athletes in June, in explaining her stance.

Additionally, Abruzzo said players have a right to address social justices such as Black Lives Matter without being muzzled.

“Activism concerning such racial justice issues, including openly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, directly concerns terms and conditions of employment, and is protected concerted activity.”

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1 year ago

This is the most ridiculous thing ever.

1 year ago

What about coaches organizing. That seems to be a legit need, too.

Reply to  GOML
1 year ago

They already can if the school’s CBA includes staff and not just faculty. But then again most Republican led legislatures are very anti-union and many (WI for one) have basically barred unions from public education altogether. So there’s that.

Bill Price
1 year ago

Well…OK. CERTAIN players can unionize, which implies that certain players cannot. The memo mentions players at private colleges and universities, and Northwestern specifically. What the difference between these and public institutions? This reads like a classic example of difference without distinction.

Reply to  Bill Price
1 year ago

thank you

Bill Price
Reply to  Bill Price
1 year ago

Answering my own question: The National Labor Relations Board only has jurisdiction over private organizations and companies, so this particular memo does not apply to public schools.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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