Connecticut Bill Would Allow College Athletes to Unionize

800px-Connecticut_State_Capitol,_February_24,_2008On the heels of winning the NCAA Basketball National Championship last year, UConn point guard Shabazz Napier was asked about the efforts of Northwestern athletes to unionize.  His response made national news, as he told a reporter that players go to bed hungry.

Subsequently, Connecticut State Representative Patricia Dillon announced that she was looking into legislation that would allow athletes from public universities in Connecticut to unionize.  A new legislative session is now under way and another State Representative, Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, has introduced legislation that, if passed, would allow certain Connecticut student athletes to form unions.

Proposed Bill No. 5485 provides as follows:

AN ACT DEFINING AN INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETE AS AN EMPLOYEE FOR COLLECTIVE BARGAINING PURPOSES IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:That the general statutes be amended to define a student of a public institution of higher education as an employee of such institution for the purposes of collective bargaining in accordance with the provisions of sections 5-270 to 5-280, inclusive, of the general statutes when the student (1) receives a scholarship from such institution or a foundation associated with such institution for not less than ninety per cent of the cost of tuition at such institution, (2) the scholarship is materially related to the student’s expected participation in intercollegiate athletics, and (3) revenues generated by such institution in the prior academic year for the athletic program in which the student is expected to participate, when divided by the total number of students expected to participate in such athletic program, exceeds four hundred per cent of the value of such scholarship.

A few notes on the legislation:

  1. Without crunching any numbers, it appears that this legislation is primarily targeted at UConn athletes, as the application of the bill is based on revenue produced.  Targeting UConn athletics is not unprecedented. In 2013, the Connecticut General Assembly introduced a bill concerning athletic scholarship that likely only applied to UConn.
  2. After reading this article by Kathleen Megan of the Hartford Courant, it appears that Rep. Lesser introduced this legislation to start a conversation about whether student-athletes are treated fairly.  It doesn’t sound like there is a an overriding desire to change the law.
  3. It is always dangerous mixing politics and sports (See the General Assembly’s involvement in the UConn-Notre Football Series).  The comments of State Representative Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, evidence this statement:  “If they want to be in sports, they should join a [professional] team. It’s college, it’s supposed to be fun.”  Obviously this statement ignores the fact that players are not free to become professionals at any time and that college sports is big business and not merely played for “fun.” 

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