“It’s up to them to use it.”

Dan Wolken thinks that now is the perfect time for college athletes to form a union.

But in the midst of COVID-19, nobody could blame college athletes for wanting to protect themselves from a new disease that, while statistically unlikely to kill them, could make them very sick and potentially cause long-term issues that nobody is quite sure about yet. Ask yourself: What’s in it for them to show up next month and be part of this experiment?

At this once-in-a-lifetime circumstance, the players — not the schools — have the power to make college football happen or not and to get something significant in return.

Whether you agree or not, what I can’t figure out is how you organize a union in the midst of a pandemic.  I mean, I can see an individual player (or that player’s mama, more likely) choosing not to participate because of a perceived health risk a lot easier than I can see putting together an organization to reach out to college athletes — thousands of college athletes — who aren’t on campus and getting them to vote on a union all in time to negotiate with schools before the start of the next football season.

Am I missing something here?

13 Comments

Filed under Look For The Union Label

13 responses to ““It’s up to them to use it.”

  1. junkyardawg41

    You’re right of course, I don’t think you are missing anything. (But don’t let practicality get in the way of the good idea fairy) I do think that Wolken is channeling his inner Rahm Emanuel with the “Don’t waste a crisis” approach. Bonus points to Wolken for tying the reason for the early genesis of unions (workplace conditions — specifically workers losing life and limb) to the current pandemic and player safety.

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  2. Macallanlover

    Yes, please do this so adding the union label can be recognized for diminishing another once successful entity. I feel you already support enough changes to bring about the certain demise of CFB, but it cannot hurt to throw unionization on top of the bonfire you are building/supporting. (All of these are also damn good for the future of “lawyering” too, but the rest of us will miss what CFB once was.)

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  3. W Cobb Dawg

    “…what I can’t figure out is how you organize a union in the midst of a pandemic.”

    Perhaps a union could be spearheaded by a smaller, highly influential, group. The vast majority of unionized workers are simply rank and file, not the organizers. I would think a handful of key players like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, etc. might pull a pretty large group with them. I gotta agree with Wolken. It’s the best bargaining position ever.

    College players would be wise to follow the example set by their nfl peers. Although the nfl agreement is one of the poorer examples of collective bargaining in sports, it’s far better than what they’d get without any agreement.

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  4. BuffaloSpringfield

    My question would be think of the players as you mentioned ? What would be more intelligent to say play in a Covid 19 season or just sit this out and wait for the draft. Now that might mean sitting out on the first NLI $$$ but if you play and come down with a life altering situation after said virus the school don’t have your back with a big insurance policy. Simply the Demise of what was and will never be again.
    Having government determine what is best for you is not in my top 4 of playoff scenarios.

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  5. Nashville West

    I’m not sure that this can happen right now without some kind of federal legislation. Prior to the enactment of the Wagner Act unions were commonly found to violate federal antitrust law. (It is ironic that the NCAA is afraid of the same anti-trust allegations). Currently the unpaid student athletes may not be covered by the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) per the NLRB’s ruling on the Northwestern players union. In addition, the student athletes at public institutions are not covered by the NLRA, even if they are employees. They would only be permitted to engage in collective bargaining to the extent that it is allowed under state law.

    That situation would produce very different results in a place like California or New York, where government employees have roughly the same rights as private-sector employees to organize, versus a number of states in the South where government employees do not have those rights. Either way, there would have to be separate unions for private institutions (governed by the NLRA) and for the institutions in each state (governed by state law) rather than one overall national union.

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  6. AceDawg

    Working in the labor policy space, you are indeed missing something. Unions attempt to organize in any and all circumstances using any argument they can. Now, you shouldn’t be able to organize amateur athletes unless there is an even more radical shift in policy that defines college athletes as employees and schools as employers, but in any case it would be horrid to add labor union activism to college campuses in this manner. Let athletes get their stipends and earn money on their own through their likeness and whatever else they want, but none of that would make them eligible for unionization. Nobody wants college football players become policy activists joining protests and boycotting football games for unrelated, or even related, political issues.

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    • Nobody wants college football players… boycotting football games for unrelated, or even related, political issues.

      Is that what their compensation and working conditions are — political issues?

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      • junkyardawg41

        Since states are passing laws and Congress is considering taking up laws, one could make the argument that the compensation of student-athletes is political.

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        • One could make a lot of arguments. What does yours have to do with player unionization? Are they organizing to lobby Congress or the legislature?

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          • junkyardawg41

            Are they organizing to lobby Congress or the legislature? Of course not.

            However, considering that the NFL Players Association has their own PAC (which raised $700K in their first year), it would not be too far of a stretch to see a college athletic union creating a PAC to lobby Congress or the legislature in the near distant future.

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      • AceDawg

        Actually, at public universities players may very well be considered government employees like professors and school faculty, which means they would affect public policy automatically, thereby making it political. However, what I’m actually referring to is the fact that unions are not known for staying in their lane to just discuss workplace matters of the specific workers they represent. Even though the professional athlete unions in the US seem to do this to a certain degree, it won’t look that way on college campuses. Unions will use athletes to engage in campus activism on issues beyond football pads. That will cause tension within the programs between coaches/athletic departments and the universities and politicians. It will bring politics that create tensions between fans and players, and in general it will probably evaporate the interest in college athletics and lead even hardcore college sports fans to lean more to pro sports.

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    • Nashville West

      Probably not going to happen. Almost every collective bargaining agreement has a no-strike, no-lockout provision that can be enforced by an injunction. In addition, strikes or work stoppages that are not related to wages, hours and conditions of employment are not protected activity and therefore subject to discipline.

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      • AceDawg

        I’m still not sure athlete unions, if formed, would be private sector. At private universities, which are the vast minority when we are talking Power 5 football, they would be, but the ones at public universities would be government unions organized under state laws instead of under the NLRA. (Consider that the head coaches at public universities are government employees, so the players would be as well). Each player would have a right to work status per the Janus Supreme Court ruling, and there would be lot of complexity for the NCAA and universities to deal with.

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