USC Athletes Designated as Employees in NLRB Complaint

The National Labor Relations Board regional director in Los Angeles on Thursday issued a complaint contending that the University of Southern California, the Pac-12 and the NCAA are joint employers of USC athletes—specifically football and men’s and women’s basketball players—under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The finding was fully expected and continues a potential path for college athletes to be recognized as employees and potentially form unions that negotiate collective bargaining agreements and other employment terms with schools, conferences and the NCAA.

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The complaint tracks longstanding arguments that athletes perform labor consistent with employees and alleges players are deprived of their rights to advocate for their collective interests.

The complaint means that NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has decided to litigate the case that athletes are employees.

“The conduct of USC, the Pac-12 Conference, and the NCAA, as joint employers, deprives their players of their statutory right to organize and to join together to improve their working and playing conditions if they wish to do so,” Abruzzo said in a statement. “Our aim is to ensure that these players, as workers like any other, can fully and freely exercise their rights.”


If that position holds up over what could become multiple rounds of litigation, USC, the Pac-12 and NCAA would be on the hook to pay athletes as employees, which could include salaries and other benefits consistent with employee recognition.

To that end, there will be a hearing before an administrative law judge on Nov. 7, 2023. The decision of the judge can be appealed to a federal court.

With reporting from Daniel Libit

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