USC, Pac-12, NCAA subject of complaint by labor board wanting athletes classified as employees

In the most significant step toward college athlete unionization to date, the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday filed an unfair labor practice complaint against USC, the Pac-12 and the NCAA asking that athletes at the school be classified as employees.

A November hearing has been set before an administrative law judge in a case that could take years to decide. The charge calls for the parties to “cease and desist from misclassifying the players as non-employee ‘student-athletes.'” It further asks that those athletes be reclassified as “employees” in “handbooks and rules.”

The complaint comes after a February 2022 complaint from the National College Players Association (NCPA), which filed an unfair labor practice charge. A formal complaint means the NLRB has investigated the charge but failed in negotiations to settle it.

A complaint was largely expected after NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memo in September 2021 that explained why college athletes are classified as employees.

“It’s significant because it brings us one step closer to the unionization of college athletes,” said Gabe Feldman, a Tulane law professor and one of the leading voices nationally in sports law, of this step. “It’s significant because it suggests the [ruling] would apply not only to private schools but to public schools as well. Conferences and the NCAA would be [athletes’] joint employers.”

A unionization effort eight years ago by Northwestern football players only on athletes attending private schools. This is a much wider-ranging issue as the Pac-12 and NCAA are being labeled as those joint employers. Employee status could conceivably spread throughout the Pac-12 and beyond considering USC is moving to the Big Ten ahead of the 2024…


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