Sep 14, 2023, 06:03 PM ET
BOSTON — Men’s basketball players at Dartmouth College have become the latest college athletes to challenge the status quo by attempting to unionize.
A petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday by the Service Employees International Union identified 15 players from the Ivy League school as seeking representation. The SEIU was listed as the petitioner, with Dartmouth College and its board of trustees identified as the employer.
Dartmouth College spokesperson Jana Barnello provided a statement to The Associated Press, confirming the petition had been filed seeking to represent the players and declaring it was under review. The petition has been assigned to NLRB’s Boston region, according to the filing’s online listing.
“We have the utmost respect for our students and for unions generally,” the statement said. “We are carefully considering this petition with the aim of responding promptly yet thoughtfully in accordance with Dartmouth’s educational mission and priorities.”
Northwestern University’s football team made a bid to form the first union for college athletes in 2014.
It was a move that was met with almost immediate opposition by college conferences and schools that argued it would fundamentally alter a system in which hundreds of millions of dollars are distributed annually to conferences and schools.
The move ultimately ended in August 2015 with the NLRB board ruling unanimously that creating a new system of union and nonunion college teams would lead to different standards from school to school. It said a system with varied money for players and things like practice time would create competitive imbalance.
That decision contrasted with an earlier decision by a regional NLRB in Chicago, which said scholarship football players are employees under U.S. law and thus entitled to organize.
However, it did not provide an opinion on whether players are employees of the schools for which they play.
Michael McCann, director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, wrote in a social media post that it could take years for the case to ultimately play out.
“There’s a good substantive legal argument many, though not all, college athletes are employees,” McCann wrote on X. “Dartmouth is probably not the ideal private school men’s team to try this given that they are not a major program and are Ivy League, where there are no athletic scholarships. … But Dartmouth student workers in dining services are already in a union, so from that lens is a good school.”