In the frenzy of Jim Harbaugh’s return to Michigan University, the Wolverine State made additional collegiate athletic news when Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed into law a ban on unionization by college athletes.
Bill 6074, which was approved by the state legislature in early December along mostly party lines, covers a wide range of union-related issues for public employees. The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Al Pscholka (R-Lincoln Township), included a provision that “a student participating in intercollegiate athletics on behalf of a public university in this state . . . is not a public employee entitled to representation or collective bargaining rights under this act.”
Michigan is the second state to respond to student-athlete collective bargaining challenges, following Illinois’ opposition to a unionization attempt by Northwestern students. The results of a vote to unionize by the Wildcats have been withheld pending a review by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
However, student-athletes from Michigan’s public schools – including Division 1 powerhouses Michigan and Michigan State – have made no public attempts to organize. The measure is preemptive, and also prevents student-athletes from receiving any employment benefits and protections afforded to state employees.
It’s unclear what kind of effects this law may have. Should the NLRB approve unionization by student-athletes, the federal body’s decision would conflict with state law, most likely resulting in a legal challenge. If NCAA athletes were to create a recognized, association-wide union, the ability of the state’s athletes to join would be in question. The law also only covers public employees and institutions, meaning athletes at any of Michigan’s private schools may be allowed to unionize.
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