As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense.
And that’s the approach the Michigan legislature took at the tail end of 2014, with legislation effectively banning college athletes at the state's public universities from unionizing. The law provides that students participating in intercollegiate athletics are not "public employees" for purposes of state labor law. As a result, they do not have the right to organize a union or bargain collectively under state law. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed the law on December 30, 2014.
Although there was no indication that student-athletes at any of Michigan’s public universities were considering unionization, the lame-duck state legislators executed a fourth quarter play to fend off the sort of union organizing activity seen at Northwestern University last year. As we noted in an earlier post, in March 2014 Northwestern University football players filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking union representation. The results of the Wildcats’ April 2014 secret ballot union election are sealed while the NLRB reviews the issue of whether college athletes should be considered "employees" who can unionize under federal labor law. Legislatures in other states can nip this sort of union organizing in the bud at public institutions with similar legislation, but the fate of private universities, like Northwestern, is in the hands of the NLRB.