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Attorneys see long fight over unionization

Discussion isn't likely to end soon.

Posted: April 9, 2014 - 10:36pm  |  Updated: April 10, 2014 - 12:22am
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The discussion of what college athletes should receive — and whether they deserve more — has been a source of debate for years. A recent regional National Labor Relations Board ruling setting the stage for the first college athletes’ union with collective bargaining rights moved the discussion back onto the front burner. This is the fifth in a five-part series looking at the topic from a Texas Tech point of view.

A ruling in late March that Northwestern athletes should be considered university employees and allowed to unionize stirred up discussion of the potential implications nationwide, even if the ruling applied to just the one school.

That discussion isn’t likely to end soon.

“Who knows whether this ruling will stand?” Texas Tech law professor Bryan Camp said last week. “This is just the start of a potential long process to see whether or not the individual who made this decision about the relationship of Northwestern University to its student-athletes is the correct interpretation of labor law.

“We don’t know it’s the correct interpretation of labor law. It’s just one person’s opinion. It happens to be an important person who has a lot of power, but it won’t be the last word on the subject.”

In a 24-page opinion handed down March 26, the Chicago regional director of the National Labor Relations Board determined that Northwestern athletes fit the definition of employees, citing long hours spent at their sport — as much as 40 to 60 hours a week — and the degree to which coaches and the athletic department regulate their lives in ways not applicable to the average student.

Northwestern players are scheduled to vote on unionization April 25. In the meantime, the university has appealed to the NLRB and, failing in that effort, could challenge the ruling in federal court.

“To me, it’s a surprise,” Tech law professor Brian Shannon said of the ruling. “But I’m not a labor attorney to know many of the intricacies involved in making those assessments. From a layperson’s perspective, the finding that individual (student-athletes) are employees comes as a surprise.”

Shannon is in his sixth year as Tech’s faculty athletics representative to the Big 12 and the NCAA, so he’s familiar with the topics advanced by the College Athletes Players Association, the petitioner in the Northwestern case.

The NCAA has been discussing some of the very same issues.

“So I think to some extent it’s possible that this decision might accelerate the NCAA’s process in trying to complete the governance redesign,” Shannon said.

The CAPA seeks collective bargaining rights to pursue comprehensive reform. According to its website, collegeathletespa.org, the goals include:

■ guaranteed coverage for sports-related medical expenses for current and former players;

■ concussion measures, including less contact in practices, independent concussion experts on sidelines and uniform return-to-play protocol;

■ establishing an educational trust fund to help former players complete their degrees;

■ increasing scholarship value to equal full cost of attendance;

■ allowing athletes to be compensated for sponsorships;

■ securing due-process rights for players accused of rules violations and making punishments consistent across programs.

Even though CAPA does not ask for a pay-for-play model, its objectives have significant financial implications for athletic departments.

“I think it could have an impact, if it stands, on how athletics budgets would have to be reviewed, considered and administered,” Shannon said.

The National Labor Relations Act doesn’t cover government employees, so public universities such as Texas Tech aren’t subject to NLRB rulings. However, a successful push by CAPA could serve as precedent for athletes seeking more benefit in an era of billion-dollar television contracts and multimillion-dollar athletic budgets.

Critics of the athletes’ push have said they could regret tax implications if they do win more monetary benefits.

That might or might not be the case.

Camp, a tax-law attorney, said the Internal Revenue Service makes its own independent judgments, not subject to the NLRB.


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College players: How much do they need?

Sunday: The athletic director’s view

Monday: Former players pro and con I

Tuesday: Former players pro and con II

Wednesday: What do active players think?

Today: Lawyers weigh in on legal questions

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Just what colleges need is to get union thugs involved in the academic system. If you think a college education is expensive now, wait until unions get involved.


Really, Civitas?

I feel like private institutions, corporate influence, and the GOP have done a pretty good job of making College more expensive. The GOP House members have rejected all amendments that would make college more affordable and have voted to raise interest rates on student loans.

I fail to see how "union thugs" are going to affect the cost of college. Especially at our Public Universities, lol! Maybe you can help me understand your reasoning.



nowhereland: "Maybe you can help me understand your reasoning."

Probably not; I'm sure your mind is closed, since you already said you don't see how unions will affect the cost of college. You probably don't understand how they affected public pensions or the bankruptcy of auto manufacturers or entire cities.



Nice dodge, but I'm still game for your explanation, rather than a history rewrite of the auto industry. Don't change the subject. It wasn't the unions who finagled bankruptcies to get out of labor contracts so companies could ship jobs to Mexico.

Seriously, I am curious how you think a players would make college more expensive.



nowhereland; comment was not directed at you personally, but at the process of nonproductive arguing. Just for info is an article about public pension issues from unionized government workers:


By the way, it was Bill Clinton who signed NAFTA and moved jobs to Mexico. Terrible decision which cost jobs on this side of the border.


No Civitas.

None of your baloney has anything to do with your claim that a player's union would make college more expensive. Instead, you insult folks who question the pile on nonsense you leave under an article.

You aren't addressing your claim.


I like

my Corolla that came from Mexico. Over 150k on the clock. I also own 2 Fender MIM guitars, they are very nice; each one $300 or so less than the American made models. The guitar parts come from the US and they are assembled over the border.

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