The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (AFT Local 3544) stands in solidarity with Pac-12 Football Unity and strongly supports players’ demands for Covid-related health and safety protections, medical insurance coverage, financial compensation through revenue distribution, and a tangible commitment of institutional resources for racial justice. GTFF recognizes the important contributions by Oregon Ducks football players in shaping these demands and underscores their right to opt out of practicing and playing in any conditions they determine as unsafe.
In response to the players’ collective organizing around common workplace concerns and willingness to potentially withhold their labor, the Pac-12 and other athletic conferences abruptly announced the cancellation of the season. The move demonstrates the power of collective action by players to organize as workers to challenge their exploitative circumstances and also represents a typical anti-union move deployed by management and owners to stifle organizing initiatives.
In the midst of the global pandemic, college football players have been pushed to take part in practices and prepare for the fall season despite severe health and safety risks because colleges and universities viewed them as expendable in their desire to reap hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue that could be generated through their labor. This is all part of a longstanding, entrenched system in which elite, well-paid, and mostly white college athletics directors, coaches, and high-level university administrators make decisions and set conditions for a workforce in Division I college football that consists of nearly 50 percent Black athletes.1
Collective action and organizing efforts by athletes in response to workplace conditions deeply resonate with the experiences of graduate employees, staff, and faculty workers who have organized for better wages and working conditions, to protect health care, and for a more inclusive and democratic university. GTFF stands with college athletes seeking union representation as we strive to make the University of Oregon a fully unionized campus with shared and cooperatively organized governance.
1 NCAA Demographics Database. Executive summary; Coach and student-athlete demographics by sport: Men’s college football, Division I, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/ncaa-demographics-database