The Michigan Senate passed a bill banning student athletes in Michigan from unionizing Tuesday, sending it to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk for approval.
HB 6074, passed by the State House on Dec. 3, would ensure that student-athletes in the state cannot be designated as public employees, a classification necessary to begin the unionization process.
No such efforts have been reported at any of the public universities or schools in Michigan. However, the issue has been raised on several other college campuses nationwide, including at Northwestern University, where the school’s football players voted last April to form a union. Northwestern is currently awaiting the results of a National Labor Relations Board decision on whether the players are eligible to unionize.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily last week, state Rep. Al Pscholka (R- Lincoln Township), who introduced the bill, said it wasn’t in response to any specific student movement in the state. Rather, he said it was a broader attempt to ensure student-athletes are considered students first.
“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.”
It was not immediately clear whether Snyder plans to sign the bill, though he did sign a previous bill barring graduate student research assistants from unionizing as well as legislation classifying Michigan as a right to work state, both in 2012.
“The issue of student athletes and unions is one that will require study,” said Dave Murray, the governor’s deputy press secretary, on Tuesday. “The governor will give the bill a thorough review once it is presented to determine whether or not he should sign it into law.”
Pscholka’s bill was applauded by several organizations in the state Tuesday after it passed the Senate. In a statement, Greg McNeilly, president of conservative advocacy group Michigan Freedom Fund, said unionizing would lead to higher costs in several areas for students and universities.
“Today’s action by a bipartisan majority in Lansing will protect college students, prevent massive new tuition costs and ensure taxpayer dollars stay in the classroom where they belong,” McNeilly said.
However, several other advocacy groups and lawmakers Tuesday and Wednesday questioned the necessity of the bill and the speed with which it passed through the legislature.
“Universities profit handsomely from student athletes and they deserve the right to collectively bargain if they so choose without interference by the legislature,” Hugh Madden, communications director for Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group, wrote in a statement. “Unions give working people — and that includes students — a voice and power in the workplace.”
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing) also questioned the relevance of the bill, given that no athletes in Michigan have currently started the process to form a union.
LSA junior Cooper Charlton, president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said Wednesday there isn’t currently a focused push by student-athletes at the University to unionize and SAAC doesn’t want to unionize or feel any animosity about the bill.
However, he said they would have liked to be a part of the conversation surrounding it.
“The way that the bill is being pushed right now has raised just a couple red flags for us,” Charlton said. “Because as the population that is going to be affected by this bill — we don’t want to be in the room telling people what to do, but we would have appreciated a phone call or an e-mail asking us what our thoughts are on this, from whoever’s office it may be.”
He said the group has reached out to their counterpart organizations at other schools in the state to discuss the issue of unionization, and are exploring different ways to be more involved in future legislation that impacts student-athletes.
“We definitely just want to voice our opinion so that in the future we’re consulted when matters of our well-being and our future are changing, regardless of whether they’re in the direction we want them to or not,” he said. “We just want to be a part of the conversation.”