Dartmouth Basketball Team Gets Green Light For Union Election

The union effort is the latest threat to the amateur status of college sports, but it could face a lengthy legal challenge.

An official at the National Labor Relations Board gave the go-ahead Monday for the men’s basketball team at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to hold a union election, presenting another legal threat to college sports’ beleaguered amateurism model.

Players on the team filed a petition for the election in September, seeking to join the Service Employees International Union Local 560. A regional director for the NLRB, which oversees private-sector union elections, held a hearing in October to determine whether the players had the right to unionize.

The official, Laura A. Sacks, issued a decision Monday finding that they were employees eligible to form a union.

“Because Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the Dartmouth men’s basketball team, and the players perform that work in exchange for compensation, I find that the petitioned-for basketball players are employees within the meaning of the [law],” Sacks wrote.

An election date has not yet been set, and a legal battle could last for months or even years. The school could challenge Sacks’ determination and take it to the NLRB’s full board in Washington and possibly later to federal court. Dartmouth has 10 days to begin the appeal process.

The NLRB is currently hearing a separate but related case to determine whether members of the University of Southern California football team are employees with rights under the law. As in the Dartmouth case, union supporters argue the players are workers, not “student athletes,” and therefore should have the right to bargain collectively.

A federal official determined Monday that Dartmouth basketball players are employees eligible to unionize.
A federal official determined Monday that Dartmouth basketball players are employees eligible to unionize.
Mitchell Layton via Getty Images

The labor board’s general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, told HuffPost in 2021 that she thought college athletes should be able to unionize. Abruzzo issued a memo the same year warning universities not to violate workers’ collective bargaining rights.

“If players at academic institutions feel like they want to choose a union to represent them in discussions with their employer over wages or working conditions... then they should be filing [union representation] petitions.”

This is not the first time college athletes at s private school have tried to form a union.

In 2014, football players at Northwestern University in Illinois petitioned for an election to join the United Steelworkers. A vote was held, but the ballots were impounded as the board heard the case. The board members ultimately declined to decide the question of whether the players were employees, ending their bid for a union.

Challenges to the amateurism model have only grown since then, with college athletes now eligible for compensation to profit off their “name, image and likeness.” And a strong majority of Americans now believe that college athletes deserve to be paid, according to recent polling.

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