Springfield, VA (July 10, 2014) – The National Right to Work Foundation, a charitable organization that provides free legal aid to employees nationwide, has filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) opposing the compulsory unionization of college athletes. The brief was filed in response to a ruling issued earlier this year by an NLRB regional director that found that Northwestern University football players are employees and thus eligible for unionization.
The Foundation’s brief points out that subjecting student athletes to compulsory unionization violates their First Amendment right to freedom of association. Under the NLRB regional director’s ruling, if a majority of student athletes in an NLRB-designated “bargaining unit” vote for unionization, all student athletes in said unit – even those who oppose the union’s presence – must accept the union’s bargaining over their terms of participation in college sports. The students may also be forced to pay union dues as a condition of participating in college athletics.
The Foundation’s brief goes on to argue that the NLRB has no interest in forcing students to accept union “representation” or forcing them to pay union dues because student athletes are not employees.
Unlike employees, student athletes are not compensated for workplace performance. Scholarships are often awarded on the basis of academic merit and other criteria unrelated to athletics, while many students “walk-on” to teams for no compensation whatsoever.
Foundation attorneys note that the NLRB regional director’s labeling of student athletes as employees could also apply to college students who receive scholarships for academics, music, or the arts. This overly-broad definition could leave even more students vulnerable to coercive unionization.
“Students shouldn’t be put in a position where they can be forced to pay union dues and accept union bargaining over their participation in college sports,” said Patrick Semmens, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation. “We hope the NLRB will reverse the regional director’s ruling and protect students’ First Amendment rights.”