WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday introduced the College Athlete Right to Organize Act, legislation to provide collective bargaining rights for college athletes. Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The College Athlete Right to Organize Act is supported by the AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers, and Advancement of Blacks in Sports.

“Big time college sports haven’t been ‘amateur’ for a long time, and the NCAA has long denied its players economic and bargaining rights while treating them like commodities," said Murphy. “That’s why I’m introducing the College Athlete Right to Organize Act, which finally recognizes college athletes as employees and allows athletes to collectively bargain with their colleges and across conferences. Having the right to do so will help athletes get the pay and protections they deserve and forces the NCAA to treat them as equals rather than second-class citizens. It’s a civil rights issue, and a matter of basic fairness.”

“College athletes are workers. They deserve pay, a union, and to own their own name, image, and likeness. We cannot wait for the NCAA to share its billions with the workers who create it,” said Sanders. “It is long past time we gave these workers the rights they deserve.”

“College athletes are workers, period. They are skilled and disciplined young people who deserve so much more than to be treated, in many cases, as sources of revenue without autonomy or ownership over their labor and value by the colleges and universities they attend,” said Bowman. “Their lack of collective bargaining rights is a labor and civil rights issue that requires our immediate action. The College Athlete Right to Organize Act is the first step in bringing college sports into the 21st century by ensuring college athletes have the right to collectively bargain across teams and conferences, and that they are able to advocate for rights, protections, and compensation commensurate with the value they undeniably provide.”

“College athletes generate billions of dollars for their schools and the NCAA, labor under the strict control of their coaches, withstand intense media scrutiny and manage a full college course-load, all without being paid. That’s unacceptable,” said Levin. “The false veil of ‘amateurism’ cannot continue to cover up exploitation. Giving these student workers the right to organize is a key step to achieving the fair compensation these incredible athletes deserve. I’m excited to work with Senators Murphy and Sanders and Representatives Bowman and Trahan to pass this urgently needed labor reform.” 

“It’s time to finally end ‘amateurism’ as we know it – a system that, by design, collects massive amounts of revenue off the backs of unpaid labor, funnels it upward, and offers no way for athletes to negotiate the compensation, safety, or playing conditions they’re owed,” said Trahan. “College athletes should be able to expect that when they suit up to represent their school, their right to organize will be valued just as much as their on-field and on-court contributions.”

Specifically, the College Athlete Right to Organize Act asserts and assists college athletes’ right to collectively bargain by:

·       Amending the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to define any college athlete as an employee of their college if they receive direct compensation from their college, whether in the form of grant-in-aid or other forms of compensation, and such compensation requires participation in intercollegiate sports, which clarifies athletes’ employment status and right to collectively bargain;

·       Amending the NLRA to define public colleges, alongside private institutions, as employers within the context of intercollegiate sports, allowing athletes to collectively bargain at any college, regardless of state laws that restrict their basic labor rights;

·       Facilitating multiemployer bargaining units for college athletes by directing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to consider the colleges within an athletic conference as part of a bargaining unit with which college athletes can negotiate, helping athletes negotiate across programs and within their respective conferences;

·       Asserting the NLRB’s jurisdiction over all institutions of higher education within the context of intercollegiate athletics, and on all collective bargaining and representation matters as well as labor disputes, which gives college athletes the ability to petition the NLRB to handle any issues that may arise in the process of collective bargaining;

·       Prohibiting any agreements, such as scholarship agreements, which waive the right of athletes to collectively bargain; and

·       Ensuring the current tax status of college athletes' scholarships and other benefits does not change due to their employment status, nor does it affect their eligibility for financial aid. 

You can read more about the College Athlete Right to Organize Act here.

You can read the section-by-section of the College Athlete Right to Organize Act here.

Earlier this year, Murphy introduced the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act, which would give college athletes unrestricted and protected rights to make money off their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL). Murphy also published an op-ed in Yahoo Sports on the ways in which COVID-19 have exposed the inherent inequities in college sports and lays out the legislative ideas to allow for college athletes to make money off their NIL, as well as provide collective bargaining rights for college athletes.