Men’s basketball players at Dartmouth College have taken steps to unionize by filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), seeking representation from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The petition lists 15 players from the Ivy League school who are pursuing unionization, with Dartmouth College and its board of trustees identified as the employer.
Dartmouth College has acknowledged the petition and stated that it is under review. A spokesperson for the college, Jana Barnello, expressed respect for both the students and unions and emphasized the importance of responding thoughtfully in accordance with Dartmouth’s educational mission and priorities.
This move by Dartmouth’s men’s basketball players follows previous attempts by college athletes to form unions. In 2014, Northwestern University’s football team sought to establish the first union for college athletes, a move met with opposition from college conferences and schools who argued that it would disrupt the existing system of college athletics.
The NLRB ultimately ruled in August 2015 that creating a new system with both union and nonunion college teams would lead to disparities in standards among schools and competitive imbalances. However, it did not offer an opinion on whether college athletes are employees of their respective schools.
Legal experts have noted that the Dartmouth case may take years to fully resolve, but there is a substantive legal argument that some college athletes could be considered employees. Dartmouth, as an Ivy League institution without athletic scholarships, presents a unique context for this unionization effort.
The outcome of this case could have implications for the broader discussion of labor rights and representation for college athletes.
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