Dartmouth Men’s Basketball Players Could Be First Unionized NCAA Athletes

The National Labor Relations Board ruled that the athletes are Dartmouth employees and have the right to unionize. Dartmouth plans to appeal the decision.
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Published on February 6, 2024
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  • The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Dartmouth men's basketball players are employees of the university.
  • As employees, the players have the right to hold a union election.
  • If approved, they would be the first unionized athletes in the NCAA.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) gave the go-ahead for the Dartmouth men's basketball team to hold a union election, paving the way for what could be the first unionized team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The 15 players on the team are seeking to be represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 560, a union that has represented Dartmouth employees for decades.

In the 26-page decision, Laura Sacks, NLRB's regional director, wrote that the players are employees of the university due to the control the school exerts over the players.

"I find that because Dartmouth has the right to control the work performed by the men's varsity basketball team, and because the players perform that work in exchange for compensation, the petitioned-for basketball players are employees within the meaning of the Act," she wrote.

Sacks did not include a timeline for when a union election should occur.

Dartmouth argues that the players are not employees because they do not compensate their athletes or provide athletic scholarships to players.

In a statement to Front Office Sports, the university says it plans to appeal the decision.

"We believe firmly that unionization is not appropriate in this instance and we will be seeking a review of the decision," the statement read.

"Dartmouth has a long and proud history of productive relationships with unions on campus, always negotiates in good faith when appropriate, and respects the rights of workers to unionize."

This is not the first time college athletes have attempted to unionize.

In 2014, football players at Northwestern University tried to unionize, arguing that the current model of the NCAA "resembled a dictatorship, where the NCAA places these rules and regulations on these students without their input or their negotiation."

The football players were unsuccessful, due in part to the fact that Northwestern University played in an athletic league with public institutions, which are state-run and under the jurisdiction of a variety of state labor laws, something the NLRB did not want to get in the middle of.

However, Dartmouth is part of the Ivy League, which is composed exclusively of privately run institutions.

"Although the Board in Northwestern University declined to exercise jurisdiction over the players at that university, nothing in that decision precludes the finding that players at private colleges and universities are employees under the Act. The Board heavily emphasized that its decision applied only to football players at Northwestern University," the decision read.

In 2020, Sens. Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, introduced legislation that would establish a bill of rights for college athletes, including the right to collective bargaining. One year later, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-CT, and Bernie Sanders, I-VT, introduced a bill that would define scholarship college athletes as employees of their universities, thereby granting them the right to collectively bargain.