LANSING, Michigan — Athletes would be blocked from unionizing at public universities under a bill that won final passage in Michigan on Tuesday, making it at least the second state to respond after Northwestern University football players were allowed to vote this year on union representation.
The legislation, which is expected to be signed by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, would prevent collective bargaining for university athletes by saying they are not public employees.
"Student-athletes really are students first," said Rep. Al Pscholka, the sponsor of the bill, which was approved 25-11 mostly along party lines in the Republican-led Senate. "The whole notion of going to school to get an education gives you a lifetime of benefits, not just a part-time job as a university employee."
Football players at Northwestern, a Big Ten private school in Illinois, took a vote April 25 on whether to have the College Athletes Players Association represent them. The votes have not been counted while the National Labor Relations Board considers a legal challenge.
There are no reports of such union-organizing efforts at any of Michigan's public or private universities. Democrats described the fast-tracked legislation — introduced just two weeks ago — as a solution to a nonexistent problem.
"We haven't truly vetted this," said Rep. Andy Schor of Lansing. "Why don't we find out if there are needs for students to be able to get together and bargain for their services? All we are doing is shutting the door on being able to potentially help our college athletes."
The NCAA opposes player unionization, saying it could lead to fewer scholarships and eliminate funding for some sports. Spurred in part by the Northwestern players, Pac-12 university presidents in May outlined a national plan that included a stipend for athletes, improved medical care and lighter workout schedules.
In June, Ohio enacted a budget that said college athletes are not public employees. It is the only other state to enact legislation related to the employment status of college athletes, said Dustin Weeden, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Pscholka, a Republican from Stevensville, said the value of a student-athlete's full ride to Michigan State University is in the "six figures," but he also thinks the NCAA should make changes to ensure health benefits are provided and that former athletes can return to complete their schooling.
This is not the first time Michigan lawmakers have moved to stifle organized labor on college campuses. University of Michigan graduate research assistants attempted to unionize, but that effort was chilled by a 2012 law signed by Snyder.
A federal judge struck down the measure this year, saying the provisions were in a bill that was originally drafted to address powers of emergency managers — violating the state constitution's "change of purpose" clause.
House Bill 6074: http://1.usa.gov/1uPh8Va
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