Courtesy of the House Democratic Caucus
Rep. Dillon joined Dwight neighborhood activists and aldermen at the dedication of a new basketball court. (Courtesy of the House Democratic Caucus)

With the NCAA basketball championships and both of the University of Connecticut teams on her mind, state Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, said she wants to get rid of any state law that would make it difficult for student athletes to unionize.

Citing the National Labor Relations Board ruling by a regional director in favor of allowing Northwestern football players to form a union, Dillon said she wants to make sure that a similar opportunity is available to Connecticut athletes.

“It appears that state law may be an impediment,” Dillon said Monday. “NLRB ruled that athletes at private schools have the right to unionize, but said state labor laws may prohibit public school students from organizing. I am prepared to file legislation to make sure athletes at both public and private schools are on equal footing.”

She said athletes should be able to make a choice about joining a union and the state “has an obligation to remove any barriers.”

Dillon has worked with Ramogi Huma, who led the National College Athletes Players Association, in filing the complaint. But she will have to find legislation to amend since the time for introducing bills has ended.

Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, said he understands that students do a lot of work, but he would rather wait and see what happens with the NLRB decision.

Northwestern University has appealed the decision to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington.

Holder-Winfield said a lot of the student-athletes get scholarships, but “they don’t get what many of us believe they should be getting in return.” However, he said there’s nothing wrong with letting it play out before Connecticut legislators start changing the law.

Lori Pelletier, executive secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said the state should give student-athletes the ability to negotiate their working conditions and health care.

“The NCAA pulls in huge salaries,” Pelletier said. “The students often don’t see any of that money.”

Dillon pointed to a March 27 interview with a University of Connecticut basketball player to prove the need for a players union.

“Under NCAA rules, players cannot seek any outside employment,” Dillon said. “UConn’s Shabazz Napier was asked about the NLRB ruling by reporters and said there are nights he goes to bed hungry.”

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In a March 27 interview after a game Napier was asked about the NLRB decision, which had been handed down just a day earlier.

“As student athletes we get utilized for what we do so well,” Napier told reporters. “But that doesn’t cover everything. We do have hungry nights where we don’t have enough food and sometimes money is needed.”

He said he doesn’t think athletes need hundreds of thousands of dollars, but there are times when money falls short and because of NCAA rules athletes are unable to receive additional money from the university.

“There are hungry nights where I go to bed and I’m starvin’,” Napier said.

But he said he doesn’t feel like an employee. He feels like a student-athlete.

Northwestern University is expected to file its appeal of the decision by April 9, according to Chicago news reports.

The Connecticut General Assembly session adjourns on May 7.