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Dartmouth basketball players vote to form first union in college sports

Dartmouth basketball players to vote on union
Dartmouth basketball players to vote on union after being declared employees 03:40

Dartmouth College basketball players voted on Tuesday to unionize, a historic step toward forming the first union in college sports that could have broad ramifications for other amateur athletes. 

Members of the Ivy League school's men's basketball team voted 13-2 in favor of joining Service Employees International Union Local 560, which already represents some Dartmouth workers. Unionizing allows the players to negotiate a salary, along with working conditions like practice hours and travel. 

 A college athletes' union is unprecedented in American sports.

"Today is a big day for our team," players Cade Haskins and Romeo Myrthil said in a statement. "We stuck together all season and won this election. It is self-evident that we, as students, can also be both campus workers and union members. Dartmouth seems to be stuck in the past. It's time for the age of amateurism to end."

Haskins and other players began their attempts to unionize last year, but the college objected to their move, forcing federal regulators to step in and make a ruling. The NLRB held hearing with players and Dartmouth in early October then deliberated until last month.

Hours after the vote, Dartmouth administrators filed a formal appeal to the unionizing effort, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB will review Dartmouth's reason for the appeal and issue a decision later, a spokeswoman for the agency said. 

Dartmouth basketball players to vote on union after being declared employees 03:40

Dartmouth, in Hanover, New Hampshire, said Tuesday it objects to the union drive, arguing that basketball players at the school aren't employees of the college.

"For Ivy League students who are varsity athletes, academics are of primary importance, and athletic pursuit is part of the educational experience," the college said in a statement. "Classifying these students as employees simply because they play basketball is as unprecedented as it is inaccurate. We, therefore, do not believe unionization is appropriate."

Why Dartmouth's union vote is important

The NCAA has long maintained that players at member schools are "student-athletes" who don't need to be paid because their scholarship serves as fair compensation. But players are pushing back on that notion as college sports has become a billion-dollar industry. 

Some collegiate athletes are pushing back by monetizing their name, image and likeness under NCAA guidelines approved in 2021. Other players, like those at Dartmouth and the University of Southern California, are choosing the unionization route. 

Football and basketball players at USC have an ongoing case with the NLRB about whether those student-athletes can legally be considered employees of the university. Being classified as employees would clear the path for those players to unionize. 

The NCAA said in a statement Tuesday that it's "pursuing significant reforms" to give college athletes more benefits, but players "should not be forced into an employment model."

The Dartmouth vote comes roughly a month after the NLRB decided that the basketball players are technically employees of the college. That decision may serve as the kindling other college basketball players need to unionize their teams. 

"We will continue to talk to other athletes at Dartmouth and throughout the Ivy League about forming unions and working together to advocate for athletes' rights and well-being," Haskins and Myrthil said.

Haskins, a 6-foot-6 forward from Minneapolis, is already a member of the SEIU local as a school employee, working 10-15 hours a week on a 10 p.m.-2 a.m. shift in the dining halls to earn spending money. Myrthil, a 6-foot-2 guard from Solna, Sweden, also has a part-time job checking people into the gym.

Support from pro athletes 

The Dartmouth vote drew support Tuesday from a prominent labor group that represents professional athletes. Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark applauded the players "for their courage and leadership in the movement to establish and advance the rights of college athletes."

"By voting to unionize, these athletes have an unprecedented seat at the table and a powerful voice with which to negotiate for rights and benefits that have been ignored for far too long," he added.

Myrthil and Haskins have said they would like to form an Ivy League Players Association that would include athletes from other sports on campus and other schools in the conference.

—With reporting from the Associated Press.

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