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A National Labor Relations Board regional official has decided that Dartmouth basketball players are employees of the school, clearing the way for an election that would create the first labor union for NCAA athletes.
All 15 members of the Dartmouth men’s basketball team signed a petition in September asking to join Local 560 of the Service Employees International Union, which already represents some other employees at the Ivy League school in Hanover, New Hampshire. Unionizing would allow the players to negotiate over not only salary but also working conditions, including practice hours and travel.
The NCAA and universities across the country have been steadfast in insisting that their athletes are students, not employees.
The school can still appeal the regional director’s decision to the national board; that’s what happened when members of the Northwestern football team held a union election in 2014. In case of appeal, the ballots would be impounded pending a ruling.
The Northwestern ballots were destroyed after the NLRB, which governs only private employers, decided that allowing the football players at the only private school in the Big Ten would upset the labor market in the conference. It did not address the question of whether the players were employees. All eight Ivy League schools are private.
There is also a complaint before a different NLRB body in California that claims football and basketball players at USC should be deemed employees.