National College Players Association files unfair labor practice charges against NCAA, Pac-12, UCLA, USC

This is the first step in a legal strategy that the group hopes will lead to open-market salaries for athletes in revenue-generating Division I sports, as well as leverage for those athletes from negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the NCAA, which governs college sports.

“The NCAA has exploited college athletes for many years and has refused to make meaningful changes to fair compensation and athlete health and safety and medical bills,” Huma said by phone. “This action is part of paving a way forward.”

In a statement released in conjunction with Tuesday’s filing, Huma said varsity athletes meet the definition of employee status under employment law.

“They are very skilled in their sport, [are] have paid scholarships and stipends to perform sports services, and they perform their work under the extensive control of their employer,” Huma said.

As such, he suggested, Division I football and basketball players, whose work funds their schools’ athletic departments, deserve the same labor law protections enjoyed by other Americans, including the right to negotiate better working conditions and benefits.

Additionally, because black athletes make up the majority of Division I football and basketball players, Huma said, they suffer disproportionate harm due to NCAA restrictions on their compensation.

“It’s both a labor issue and a civil rights issue,” said Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who for more than two decades has advocated for the rights and protections of college athletes.

The charges were filed largely in response to a Sept. 29 memo released by the NLRB’s general counsel stating that some college athletes are, in fact, employees. In the memo, NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo wrote that the board considers college football players and other athletes participating in income-generating sports to be employees of their schools, with the right to unionize and negotiate better working conditions and benefits.

Abruzzo also said the term student-athlete is a “misclassification” that she says leads income-generating athletes to believe they are not entitled to the same job protections that other Americans have under national labor relations law. She suggested that use of the term, coined by the NCAA in the 1950s to further the idea that college athletes are not employees, had “chilling effect” and could, in itself, violate the law.

The NLRB is an independent federal agency that enforces labor law relating to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices. Based in Washington, it has regional offices across the country where workers, employers and unions can file complaints.

The National College Players Association cited UCLA and USC in its filing because it submitted the charges to the NLRB office serving Southern California. He also wanted to include a public and private university to expand the scope of the action, and he characterized the Pac-12 and NCAA as “joint employers” in an effort to expand any NLRB ruling on the matter to encompass all Division I schools, both public and private.

In 2015, the NLRB blocked North West football players from becoming the first college team to form a union by refusing to comment on whether scholarship players are employees.

The Abruzzo memo signaled a different stance from the Biden administration, suggesting the board may revisit the issue amid legal challenges to NCAA limitations on athlete rights and compensation. Abruzzo’s position was strengthened by the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in NCAA vs. Alston, which characterized college sports as a for-profit enterprise and expanded the types of education-related compensation athletes could receive.

In its statement released in conjunction with the NLRB charges, the National College Players Association cited the concurring opinion of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh in Alston. He wrote, “Nowhere else in America can corporations get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate.

Andrew B. Reiter