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Recent unionization decisions will not affect student-athletes at UNC

Both NLRB decisions dealt specifically with students at private universities.

Jonathan Weiler, director of undergraduate studies in the global studies department, said the rulings both use similar language about the employment of students.

“This parallel has been drawn before between college athletes and graduate TAs. In the past, the parallel was unhelpful to the athletes because TAs had not been recognized as legitimate collective bargaining units,” he said.

Weiler said given the 2015 NLRB ruling, it is hard to say if the recent ruling will affect student-athletes interested in gaining collective bargaining rights.

Senior Ryan Switzer, wide receiver for the UNC football team, said the differences in age could take away from an argument in favor of student-athletes unionizing.

“Most certainly having (graduate students) speak for themselves as a collective unit is a step in the right direction,” Switzer said. “I don’t know if the best thing for student-athletes is for them to be able to unionize themselves just because of the broad spectrum of age. Some of these guys, it’s their first time being on their own.”

Associate Athletic Director Paul Pogge said the case does not specifically relate to the status of student-athletes at public universities.

“(The NLRB) can’t assert jurisdiction over public colleges and universities, including UNC. So that kind of limits things to a certain extent when we’re talking about applicability of certain decisions to what might happen with public universities,” Pogge said.

Pogge said universities continue to talk about ways to improve the collegiate athletic system.

“I think there’s a need for reflective dialogue on how we can continue to provide opportunities to compete for young men and women and provide educational opportunities,” Pogge said. “Those two things are critically important to what we do.”

Weiler said the composition of the NLRB is important to consider. The NLRB is made up of five board members who can serve for five-year terms. One membership expires each year.

“It’s certainly possible that a future board with a different composition might look differently on athletes’ petitions,” Weiler said.

Weiler said the conversation regarding the collective bargaining rights of student-athletes will likely continue, because cases have been heard in federal courts regarding the images and likenesses of university athletes.

“I don’t think that these efforts are dead. I think in all sorts of ways we’re in an interesting new era of athlete activism around a whole range of issues — race and labor rights and those sorts of things,” Weiler said.

“So I think we will see these kinds of efforts continue.”

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