College Athlete Right to Organize Act introduced by Sanders and Murphy

Northwestern football players were denied the right to organize by the NLRB in 2015.
Image: AP

Federal bills aimed at NCAA reform just keep coming. This time, on Thursday morning, Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the first legislation specifically related to the collective bargaining rights of college athletes.

The College Athlete Right to Organize Act aims to recognize college athletes for what they really are — employees — and provide basic labor rights to them as workers. It also attempts to give college athletes the right to organize and collectively bargain for fair pay and equitable conditions.

“College athletes are workers,” Senator Sanders said in a statement.”They deserve pay, a union, and to own their own name, image, and likeness. We cannot wait for the NCAA to share its billions with the workers who create it.

“It is long past time we gave these workers the rights they deserve.”

“Big time college sports haven’t been ‘amateur’ for a long time, and the NCAA has long denied its players economic and bargaining rights while treating them like commodities,” said Senator Murphy. “That’s why I’m introducing the College Athlete Right to Organize Act, which finally recognizes college athletes as employees and allows athletes to collectively bargain with their colleges and across conferences. Having the right to do so will help athletes get the pay and protections they deserve and forces the NCAA to treat them as equals rather than second-class citizens. It’s a civil rights issue, and a matter of basic fairness.”

Sanders and Murphy were two of the original sponsors of the College Athlete Bill of Rights last summer. That legislation is now in the hands of Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), who told Deadspin there is a “real window of opportunity” for the bill to pass this year. Plus, with states across the country allowing college athletes to profit off their name image and likeness (NIL), direct college athletic compensation seems like the next domino to fall through federal, state, or NCAA action.

Senator Murphy also introduced his own NIL proposal this year, one of many NIL bills currently circulating through the halls of Congress.

Companion legislation to the College Athlete Right to Organize Act has also been introduced by three members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA).

One college football team has already tried to organize, but their ruling was overturned by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In 2015, Northwestern football players tried to form a union. But after the Chicago district of the NLRB ruled that team members are employees and can unionize, the University asked the NLRB to overturn the ruling. A month later, the board did just that.

Just six years after that Northwestern defeat, college sports seems to be on the precipice of actual reform — and no thanks to the NCAA itself.

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