Dartmouth Men’s Basketball Players Vote to Unionize

The Dartmouth men's basketball team voted 13-2 to unionize, the next step in forming the first labor union of athletes in the NCAA.
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Published on March 6, 2024
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  • Dartmouth men's basketball players voted 13-2 to form a union.
  • The players will join Service Employees International Union Local 560, which already represents certain Dartmouth employees.
  • The university can appeal the decision, a process that can take months.

Dartmouth men's basketball players have voted to unionize, the next step in becoming the first labor union of athletes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The players voted 13-2 to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 560, a union that has represented Dartmouth employees for decades.

The union election was open for 90 minutes on March 5. All 15 players participated in the vote, most of whom showed up to the election together, according to Front Office Sports.

In a statement to Front Office Sports, Dartmouth University said that "classifying these students as employees because they play basketball is as unprecedented as it is inaccurate" and unionization is not "appropriate."

"We always negotiate in good faith and have deep respect for our 1,500 union colleagues, including the members of SEIU Local 560," the statement read. "In this isolated circumstance, however, the students on the men's basketball team are not in any way employed by Dartmouth. For Ivy League students who are varsity athletes, academics are of primary importance, and athletic pursuit is part of the educational experience."

The university has five business days to file an objection to the election results with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The school can also take the issue of player unionization to federal court, which could stall negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement until after current team members have graduated.

The appeals process could take months. NCAA President Charlie Baker, whom The Washington Post calls "an unwavering opponent of athletes becoming employees," said last month that he expects appeal after appeal if the players voted to unionize.

"Don't forget how long it takes most NLRB processes to play out," Baker said. "They take a really long time. You have two levels within the NLRB, and then possibly at least two and maybe three levels of the courts."

The NLRB greenlighted the union election last month in a 26-page decision that found that the players are university employees 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," Laura Sacks, NLRB's regional director, wrote in the decision.

College athletes have attempted to unionize before, but they weren't successful.

In 2014, Northwestern University football players tried to unionize because they said the NCAA "resembles a dictatorship, where the NCAA places these rules and regulations on these students without their input or without their negotiation."

The NLRB did not approve the union vote partly because Northwestern University played in an athletic league with public institutions. The NLRB didn't want to get involved with the institutions, which are state-run and, therefore, subject to various state labor laws.

But Dartmouth is a private school, and Sacks pointed out in the February decision that the board said nothing to indicate that private college athletes aren't employees.

Legislators have also attempted to grant college athletes the right to collective bargaining.

One bill introduced in 2021 would have defined college athletes attending school on scholarship as university employees, granting collective bargaining rights. U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, introduced legislation in 2020 that would make collective bargaining one of the rights of college athletes.