Dartmouth Players Are Employees Who Can Unionize, U.S. Official Says

A federal official said Monday that members of the Dartmouth men’s basketball team were university employees, clearing a path for the team to take a vote that could make it the first unionized college sports program in the country.

In a statement, the National Labor Relations Board’s regional director in Boston, Laura Sacks, said that because Dartmouth had “the right to control the work” of the team and because the team did that work “in exchange for compensation” like equipment and game tickets, the players were employees under the National Labor Relations Act.

A date for the election on whether to unionize has not yet been set, and the result would need to be certified by the N.L.R.B. The university and the N.C.A.A. are expected to appeal the director’s decision.

In September, all 15 players on the team’s varsity roster signed and filed a petition to the labor board to unionize with the Service Employees International Union. On Oct. 5, Dartmouth’s lawyers responded by arguing that the players did not have the right to collectively bargain because, as members of the Ivy League, they received no athletic scholarships and because the program lost money each year.

The N.C.A.A. and its member schools have long resisted unionization attempts by college athletes, defending the student-athlete model that has come under fire by labor activists, judges and elected officials over the years.

In 2014, the Northwestern football team led the highest-profile attempt by a college program to unionize, arguing that because the players were compensated through scholarships, they had the right to bargain collectively.


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