State pushback against a movement to unionize college athletes has begun in Ohio, the football-loving heart of a heated anti-labor campaign in 2011 and home to one of America’s highest-grossing collegiate franchises, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
A measure approved by the state House on Wednesday, two weeks after a federal agency said football players at Northwestern University could unionize, clarifies that college athletes aren’t public employees. The proposal appears to be the first of its kind to clear a state legislative chamber; it heads next to the state Senate.
The opposite is happening in Connecticut, where lawmakers are looking at clearing the path for college athletes to unionize. Some observers, though, think other states are more likely to follow Ohio’s lead.
“This is a pre-emptive move,” said John Russo, a union organization expert who formerly directed Youngstown State University’s Center for Working-Class Studies.
A National Labor Relations Board official ruled March 26 that full-scholarship players at Northwestern University in Illinois are employees and therefore eligible to unionize. The university has appealed ahead of a vote by the athletes April 25.
Federal labor law is in play at Northwestern because it’s private, but states control policy at public universities — including giants such as Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan and Alabama, whose athletic programs generate millions in annual revenue.