HomeWorldUS Labor Board region sides with USC athletes seeking 'employee' designation

US Labor Board region sides with USC athletes seeking ’employee’ designation

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The Los Angeles regional director of the U.S. agency that enforces U.S. labor laws has sided with University of Southern California (USC) basketball and soccer scholarship players seeking recognition as employees and the right to unionize.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) director of the agency’s Region 31 office issued a determination of merit in an unfair labor practice charge brought by student-athletes against USC, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA ) and the Pac-12 athletic conference.

The parties to the case were informed of the decision on Thursday, according to NLRB spokeswoman Kayla Blado.

It is the first such ruling since the NLRB’s lead counsel issued a legal opinion in September 2021 affirming that college athletes should be classified as employees and therefore protected by US employment law.

The 2021 memo from Jennifer Abruzzo, the agency’s general counsel, notified colleges and universities that all 32 NLRB regions would support valid organizing efforts by college players, effectively inviting athletes to unionize.

A separate case brought by college athletes in Indianapolis against the NCAA and others has been suspended pending the outcome of the USC case.

Region 31’s finding of merit was based on its determination that USC, the Pac-12 and the NCAA, as joint employers, “maintained illegal rules and illegally misclassified scholarship basketball and football players as mere ‘student athletes’ instead of employees entitled to protections.” under our law,” Abruzzo said Thursday.

Depending on the merits determination, the parties may resolve their dispute or the regional director will prosecute the athletes’ case on their behalf before an administrative law judge, who may order remedies.

The judge’s ruling could then be appealed to the full NLRB, which would make a decision on whether USC, NCAA and Pac-12 are employers under labor law, and could order its own remedies.

USC issued a statement suggesting it would challenge the ruling, saying “the matter remains in an early stage” and that “a final ruling will not be issued until there is a full hearing based on all relevant legal facts.”

“We look forward to presenting those facts, along with 75 years of favorable legal precedent,” the university said.

The USC Trojans, whose quarterback Caleb Williams was just named the Heisman Trophy winner of the year, are among the top college soccer teams in the United States.

The NCAA did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, and the Pac-12 declined to comment.

The National College Players Association, which filed the charges on behalf of 113 USC athletes, also could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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