Mich. Senate passes bill banning college athlete unions

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News
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Lansing – — Legislation to block Michigan college athletes from following the Northwestern University football team's move toward unionization was headed for the governor's desk Tuesday.

The state Senate gave final approval to the House-passed bill on a 25-11 vote. Sponsored by Republican Rep. Al Pscholka of Stevensville, it states students participating in intercollegiate athletics aren't public employees.

Senate passage won an immediate endorsement from Michigan Freedom Fund President Greg McNeilly, who said unionizing college athletes "would send the already rising cost of a college education skyrocketing,"

The legislation is inspired by Northwestern players who argued they should have the power to bargain for compensation, medical benefits and care for injuries because their efforts on the field create millions of dollars in revenue for universities.

The office of Gov. Rick Snyder was noncommital Tuesday on whether the governor would sign the legislation.

Union voting was held by team members last April on the campus in Evanston, Illinois, but the ballot boxes were sealed. The full National Labor Relations Board is considering the university's appeal of a regional director's ruling the players essentially are university employees.

Pscholka, once a high school baseball player who tried to get an athletic scholarship at Western Michigan University, argues that the legislation reinforces the importance of students to focus on education instead of making a short-term commitment to being a university employee with little else to show for the effort.

Some Democrats contend college-age athletes are adults and should be allowed to make decisions for themselves about forming unions.

Rep. Andy Schor said there needed to be a more thorough debate that included conversations with college students.

"All we're doing is shutting the door on being able to potentially help our college athletes," said Schor, D-Lansing.

gheinlein@detroitnews.com(517) 371-3660

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