By Will Greenberg, Daily News Editor
Published December 3, 2014
A Republican member of the Michigan House of Representatives introduced a bill Tuesday that would bar collegiate student-athletes from unionizing — a move to preempt a repeat of similar efforts on other campuses across the nation.
State Rep. Al Pscholka (R–Lincoln Township) presented the bill, which would specify that college students are not classified as “public employees.” The bill was referred to the Committee on Michigan Competitiveness.
Pscholka said in an interview with The Michigan Daily that he intends for the bill to reinforce the idea of student-athletes being students first, and added that receiving a scholarship does not mean a student is working a job.
“You’re going to college to get the education that will literally provide you with a lifetime of benefits,” he said. “That’s how important I think education is, and I think we’ve lost sight of that.”
The topic of student-athletes unionizing originated at Northwestern University this summer, when the school’s football team voted to unionize. Peter Sung Ohr, regional director for the National Labor Relations Board, determined in March that the players were employees of the university and were eligible to unionize. However, Northwestern administrators have challenged the ruling and are waiting for a decision from the national board, comprised of three Democrats and two Republicans, in Washington.
Pscholka said his bill is not a response to any similar movements by student-athletes at Michigan schools, but said he has been working on it for several months.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said it’s too early for the University to take a stand on the matter of unionization or the bill itself. He added that legislation is often changed in committee and said he hopes to learn more as the bill is discussed.
LSA junior Cooper Charlton, president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said student-athletes are not making any concerted effort to unionize like the Northwestern football team. However, he said the Northwestern situation has spurred a conversation among student-athletes here, and he hopes to learn more about the issues.
“Northwestern started the conversation and we just want to join it,” Charlton said. “By join it, I don’t mean we’re picking sides — we’re not picking sides whatsoever. We’re just trying to hear both sides of the argument.”
Charlton said opinions about unionization and student-athlete compensation vary among University student-athletes. He said different teams distribute scholarships to their players differently. Additionally, student-athlete scholarships can be affected by financial need and other factors, just like with non-athletes.
Charlton said he believes the University has provided for the needs of students already, though he recognizes that student-athletes occasionally feel otherwise. He added that there have been recent policy changes, such as the NCAA allowing for schools to provide unlimited meals to student-athletes, that have been helpful.
“I haven’t talked to any athletes that are up in arms,” Charlton said. “Now, there are people that have expressed sometimes they wish they could maybe have another meal every day but there’s no great demand. Michigan does a great job of giving us what we need.”
Moving forward, Charlton said he and the SAAC will be looking into the specifics of what unionization would mean for the University.