NLRB files complaint against NCAA alleging student-athlete classification is unlawful
The National Labor Relations Board’s Los Angeles office issued a formal complaint on Thursday against the NCAA, the Pac-12, and USC alleging that USC athletes have been unlawfully misclassified as student-athletes rather than employees.
It’s a significant move with the ability to significantly alter the landscape of college athletics. Employee status and the ability to unionize and collectively bargain wages may be on the table later on down the road.
According to USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz, a hearing has been set for Nov. 7. During it, the NLRB’s general counsel will seek an order requiring all three parties to “reclassify the Players as employees rather than as ‘student-athletes’ in their files.”
The hearing will be heard before an administrative law judge. The decision can be appealed all the way up to federal court.
Per Berkowitz, the complaint alleges that the NCAA, the Pac-12, and USC have been joint employers of the athletes because the NCAA and Pac-12 had control over the athletes’ working conditions.
The joint-employer approach means the case would ultimately apply not just to athletes at private schools like USC but also to those at public institutions, according to Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane Sports Law Program.
The complaint also states USC, Pac-12, & NCAA are joint employers of the college athletes. This is significant because the NLRA only applies to private employers. But if athletes at public schools are jointly employed by the conference and NCAA, then the NLRA would apply to all.
— Gabe Feldman (@SportsLawGuy) May 18, 2023
Feldman told Berkowitz that, with the complaint, “We are potentially one step closer to college athletes having the right to unionize and collectively bargain over their wages, hours, and other conditions of employment.”
In 2015, the NLRB unanimously rejected a bid from football players at Northwestern to unionize. They did not rule directly on the topic being relitigated today, instead saying the wide-ranging impact of the petition would not have promoted “stability in labor relations,” per the New York Times.