The owners’ lockouts in the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association of this decade are a distant bad memory for the sports faithful but more labor squabbles are in the pipeline and this time it involves so-called student athletes in college, minor league baseball players and junior hockey players in both Canada and the United States.
It appears athletes not in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer are beginning to take notice that they are underpaid or not paid at all. Football players at Northwestern University in Chicago voted to unionize which did not stand well with the university, the NCAA or legislators in Ohio where the politicians voted to make sure Ohio State football players and other athletes remain student-athletes not school employees. The Northwestern case is working its way through the National Labor Relations Board after the athletes got preliminary approval to unionize from a regional NRLB office.
While the Northwestern football players wait, thirty two former minor league players are suing Major League Baseball because they feel they were underpaid. Major League Baseball seems to think the players are seasonal workers and thus Major League Baseball is exempt from hourly wage laws. The case may not be heard for years but it might inspire some minor league players to unionize.
There have also been attempts to unionize the mostly teenage players in the Canadian Hockey League, an umbrella group for three leagues with teams mainly in Canada and in a few American cities. There is a class action that has been filed against the CHL which charges that CHL franchise owners conspired to force teenage players to sign contracts that skirt minimum wage laws in Canada. The players get somewhere between 65 and a 120 dollars a week but feel they should be earning more. The CHL naturally disagrees citing that players can get college scholarship money and don’t have to pay for housing.
The labor peace on the big time level will end in a few years but for now the real action in the sports labor squabbles will take place in a battle between a high number of teenagers and the adults who control their sports lives.