National Labor Relations Board Rules Dartmouth College Men’s Basketball Team Can Unionize

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director has ruled the Dartmouth men’s basketball team can hold a union election.

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director has ruled the Dartmouth men’s basketball team can hold a union election.

The Washington Post reports NLRB Director Laura A. Sacks determined the athletes are employees of Dartmouth College.

“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 [National Labor Relations] Act,” Sacks wrote in her ruling.

According to a Dartmouth spokesperson, the ruling has sent shockwaves through college basketball, and the school is planning to appeal the decision. The appeal will set off a lengthy process.

This isn’t the NLRB’s first determination of a college sports team’s attempt to unionize. In 2015, an NLRB regional director ruled the Northwestern University football team could hold a union election but eventually rejected its petition.

The ruling eventually led to college athletes profiting off their name, image, and likeness (NIL) through brand deals or de facto salaries from donor-funded groups called collectives. However, NIL has created a whole new set of issues, and the University of Tennessee has filed a lawsuit against the NCAA over the legality of NIL guidelines.

The Dartmouth situation began last September when all 15 men’s basketball team members filed a petition to unionize. 

In addition to Dartmouth, the NLRB is currently in a trial that will decide whether the University of Southern California’s football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball players are employees of the school and the Pac-12 Conference.

“There are a couple of key things in the environment that support this effort that weren’t in place during the Northwestern push,” Ramogi Huma, the executive director of the National College Players Association, told The Post. “A big one is NIL pay. When the full board decided not to assert jurisdiction in the Northwestern case, they claimed this is a system that typically needs common rules. They talked about keeping a level playing field. NIL makes it very clear that you don’t need common rules.”

The Dartmouth team election is expected to be held within the next few weeks, but no date has been selected. Even with the school appealing, the players can still hold a vote, which will let the NLRB know the player’s feelings.

If the athletes vote and agree to unionize, the presidential election this fall could have a huge impact on the situation. The NLRB board has five members, with the majority typically in the same party as the sitting president. If former President Donald Trump wins the election, the makeup of the court would certainly change.

Any ruling on an appeal in the case would need three board members to agree, which could take months. Additionally, any decision could be appealed through the courts up to the Supreme Court, leaving the case in limbo for more than a year.

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