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More Plaintiffs Join Lawsuit v. NCAA Claiming Student Athletes Deserve Pay

Former Villanova University football player Ralph “Trey” Johnson sued the N.C.A.A. in November 2019, claiming that college athletes should be considered employees at the schools they play for under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The case has grown since then, with several former athletes joining as plaintiffs and seeking to form a class-action lawsuit.

This case is one of many blows the N.C.A.A. has taken to its current model of the relationship between athletes, their schools and the N.C.A.A.

In a statement, Johnson said that the lawsuit was “not about being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The case was also not restricted to a few select athletes with endorsement deals.

“We are simply asking the N.C.A.A. to pay its student-athletes the basic minimum wage as required by federal law. They pay the students who tear the tickets and sell popcorn at our games. The least that the N.C.A.A. can do for those who bring so much money to the N.C.A.A. and its schools would be to pay them the minimum wage.”

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In June 2021, the Supreme Court passed a unanimous decision in the case N.C.A.A. v. Alston to uphold a lower court’s ruling that the N.C.A.A. restrictions on “education-related benefits” for college athletes violated antitrust laws. These benefits included scholarships for graduate school, payment for academic tutoring and paid post-eligibility internships.

Though the Supreme Court case did not debate the issue of compensation, it was one of the first major blows to the N.C.A.A.’s status quo. Over the last two years, several states have passed legislation that challenged the N.C.A.A.’s rules prohibiting athletes from profiting off their NIL—name, image and likeness. Congress in both parties have proposed new legislation that would grant student athletes long-term medical care and a portion of the revenue they generate.

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The National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, released a memo stating that she considered college athletes employees under federal law. The memo states that Abruzzo would consider referring to the “employees as mere student-athletes,” violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was a sign that the N.L.R.B. would be willing to pursue claims against colleges, conferences and the N.C.A.A. on behalf of the students.

“The broad language of Section 2(3) of the Act, the policies underlying the N.L.R.A., Board law, and the common lawfully support the conclusion that certain Players at Academic Institutions are statutory employees, who have the right to act collectively to improve their terms and conditions of employment.”

The case is currently in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. If the case is ruled in favor of the athletes, it will counter the Seventh and Ninth circuit’s rulings. The conflicting rulings would increase the likelihood that the Supreme Court would step in to make a final decision.

In 2021, the N.C.A.A. made $1.15 billion in revenue and distributed the bulk of it to its 1,200 member schools.

Business people putting their hands together

Kickstarter Workers Make Historic Vote To Unionize

Kickstarter is one of the most well-known tech companies out there. They were one of the original businesses to create a platform for individuals who needed funding for whatever projects life threw their way. Users have used the website to raise money for surgery, travel funds, textbook payments, charities, and more. Now, Kickstarter is setting yet another precedent for the tech industry this week after employees voted to unionize on Tuesday (2/18), making them the one of the only companies in their field to do so. 

The National Labor Relations Board held the election this week in which the workers won the unionization vote by a margin of 46 to 37. The passing vote states that Kickstarter’s employee’s will now be affiliated with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). This partnership is between the OPEIU and unionizes 85 employees of all sorts including engineers, analysts, designers, and customer support. 

“Kickstarter employees felt their employer, a public benefit corporation, should live up to the foundational progressive values it espouses by ensuring trust and transparency from management, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, implementing more inclusive hiring practices and giving employees a voice in the decision-making process,” OPEIU said in a statement.

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While Kickstarter has become one of the first ever tech unions in the United States, the move itself wasn’t surprising, as employee’s have been quite public about their discontent with their employers for several months now. Back in September the company fired two employees both of which claimed that their termination was in direct connection to their unionization efforts, a claim Kickstarter has since denied.

Kickstarter also had to give a detailed documentation of events that led up to the two employees terminations to the National Labor Relations Board, those reasons have not been made public, however. But besides that initial incident, corporate heads from Kickstarter have been otherwise supportive of their employees this week as their union dreams have come into fruition. 

“We support and respect this decision, and we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here,” Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan claimed after the vote was finalized. 

“This is a sign, loud and clear, that it’s possible to organize tech. Workers in tech want the same agency union workers have won for decades. Nothing is really new, tech is just joining history and proving we’re not an exception,” Clarissa Redwine, one of the fired employees stated.

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As Redwine stated, this is a huge move for the tech industry as a whole, as no company as large as Kickstarter has ever been able to successfully unionize despite the concerns from individuals on the corporate end of things. Workers from all sorts of major tech companies, such as Google and Amazon, have been increasing their overall efforts to unionize within the past few years. 

Claims of sexual harassment, and complaints regarding company impact on the environment have fueled the employee fire for change. However, with companies as large as Google or Amazon, it can be nearly impossible for workers on the ground level to make a real impact without succumbing to the pressure of intimidation and corporate jargon. Lucky for them, The National Labor Relations Board doesn’t take to kindly to wealthy employers restricting their workers rights all in the name of saving a few dollars from their multi-million dollar paychecks. In fact, the NLRB has already opened an investigation against Google after four terminated employees stated they were fired for speaking out against company practices. Amazon is being investigated for the same type of situation involving five employees. 

So while the creation of a union may not seem like a huge deal, in America, and in the tech industry especially, worker rights are often overlooked, so having official employee protections guaranteed is a huge deal. Kickstarter was able to do the impossible and, hopefully, inspire more tech corporations to treat their employees for what they are, hard-working, dedicated, passionate people just trying to make a real honest living; isn’t that the American dream?