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UNC student-athletes still can’t unionize

The ruling, released Aug. 24, overturned a decision that allowed Northwestern University football players the ability to form a union. The first college football season since the ruling came down starts Thursday night.

“Huge amounts of money are going to be made by everyone involved, except the players,” said Robert Orr, a UNC professor of law and former N.C. Supreme Court justice.

“What if the group of students from South Carolina and North Carolina decided they were going to stay in and study on Thursday night instead of playing football? Contemplate the consequences,” he said.

Orr said the ruling will not affect student-athletes at public universities like UNC. However, UNC’s student-athletes still can’t unionize.

“Public employees — to the extent (public university) athletes would be considered employees — are not allowed to unionize in North Carolina,” he said.

Landon Turner, a senior offensive guard for UNC, was frustrated with the decision.

“We’re doing actual work and generating actual revenue,” he said. “In my mind, we do a lot of work for the University, and it’s not too far-fetched to me to say we’re employees of a certain kind.”

Shakeel Rashad, a senior linebacker for UNC, said no one on the football team has talked about unions on campus.

“I love the opportunity we have here to play, so I’ve never thought about doing it,” he said.

Although the ruling does not affect public schools, private schools such as Duke and Wake Forest are directly affected.

At Wake Forest, athletics spokesman Steve Shutt said he hasn’t seen any sign of student-athletes unionizing.

“We are involved in the cost of attendance,” he said. “Our student-athletes will receive cost of attendance at the school.”

Art Chase, Duke’s assistant director of athletics and external affairs said in an email that Duke’s student-athletes have not discussed unionizing.

Jonathan Owens, director of communications for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said his group has not been approached by any student-athletes yet.

“We did pass a bylaws change to allow college students to join,” he said.

The State Employees Association of North Carolina is an association rather than a union, he said. Under the state’s Right-to-Work law, employees cannot be forced to join a union to be in the workforce. As a result, Owens said, unions in North Carolina are not as common as they are in the Northeast.

“During the season, we aren’t able to get jobs,” senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “We’re strictly focused on school and football. We don’t really ever get to go home. We’re always here.”

Owens said his association represents state workers’ interests to the legislature and gives groups discounted insurance and better health care — benefits of joining the association.

“We work a lot. We’re here all year round,” Turner, the lineman, said. “If you think about it, it’s like a month collectively that I actually get a chance to go out on a break. I get a week in for spring break and a week in between different sessions.”

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As members of one of the Power 5 conferences, all Atlantic Coast Conference schools are permitted to give scholarships that cover cost of attendance. Formerly, the universities could only cover tuition. In addition to tuition, cost of attendance covers books, personal transportation and room and board.

“It’s huge. I’m from Texas, so it helps with family travel money. My parents have to fly a long way to come to each game,” Schoettmer said.

Rashad said he appreciates the school covering his cost of attendance.

“Being from Florida, when I travel home, it’s a couple hundred dollars to get home,” he said. “The scholarship won’t cover everything, but the cost of attendance will end up covering travel to and from home a few times a year and other things like that.”

Other members of the Power 5 conferences, which are allowed to self-determine student-athlete benefits, include the Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences.

“The big issue for athletes is to have some organized voice to represent their interest and concerns on a range of issues,” Orr said.