NC state workers unions opens membership to college athletes

A North Carolina state employees union has decided to recognize scholarship athletes who play for the state’s public universities teams as state employees.

The decision by the Board of Governors of the State Employees Association of North Carolina SEIU Local 2008 (SEANC) makes most college athletes at North Carolina state universities eligible to join the union. NCSEA has 55,000 members.

“What (SEANC) has definitively decided is to change our own membership rules to allow (college athletes) to join,” SEANC spokeswoman Toni Davis to the Associated Press. “And everything beyond that is really in a planning and development stage.”

The decision by the SEANC comes at time when more college athletes are thinking about forming a union to address grievances about the way they are treated by a college sports enterprise that has enriched executives of the NCAA, the body governing most college sports in the US, a handful of college athletic directors and head coaches, and broadcasting networks.

In April, football players at Northwestern University voted in a National Labor Relations Board union representation election on whether to join the National College Players Association.

The results of that election have not been announced pending an appeal by Northwestern of an NLRB decision that classifies college athletes as employees eligible for union representation.

In its decision, the NLRB found that football players at Northwestern through their efforts have generated $235 million for the university over the last ten years. According to the NLRB, Northwestern football players spend “50 to 60 hours per week on their (football duties) during a one-month training camp” and 40 to 50 hours per week on those same duties during the four-month football season.

During the offseason and summer, players are required to participate in practices as well.

College athletes also work under a strict regimen dictated by their coaches that is similar if not exactly the same as workplace discipline required of employees in general.

The National College Players Association in a 2013 report entitled the $6 Billion Heist describes the relationship between athletes and their colleges and the NCAA as exploitative.

According to the report, the so-called full scholarship that athletes receive for playing their sport is not enough to make ends meet, saddling the athlete with an average of $3,285 in out of pocket expenses every year.

The percentage of athletes at NCAA colleges living in poverty is 82 percent for those who live on campus and 90 percent for those who live off campus.

While athletes struggle to make ends meet, the NCAA and the colleges with top-tier athletic programs receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue generated by the efforts of college athletes.

During the 2012-2013 school year, the NCAA received $912 million in total revenue generated by television contracts, ticket sales, and marketing deals.

Total revenue for the top ten college athletic programs in 2012 was, according to USA Today, $1.25 billion; their expenses were $812.2 million for a net revenue of about $435 million.

If athletes in North Carolina choose to join SEANC they won’t have collective bargaining rights. North Carolina prohibits collective bargaining by state employees.

But for $9 a month, they will become members of an advocacy group that has successfully achieved gains and protections for such state employees as correctional officers, health care workers, and other university employees.

As members, they will have the opportunity to determine what improvements they wish to achieve, and they will receive help from the union staff and other members in their struggle to achieve their goals.

“It is a membership-driven association so the members — in this case the student scholarship athletes — would let us know what their concerns are,” said Davis to the AP. “So we’re not coming to them saying we’re going to solve a set of problems what we’ve defined. We’re looking for the athletes to let us know how they would like us to help.”