News & Commentary

July 1, 2021

William Greenlaw

William Greenlaw is a student at Harvard Law School.

The landmark Supreme Court decision NCAA v. Alston allows college athletes to profit from their likenesses and image even while a student. Now, changes to the generations-old policy of unpaid amateurism begin to come to an end today as states such as Florida implement laws following up on the Supreme Court decision. This is a seismic shift from the 115-year history of the NCAA asserting that student athletes could only play as amateurs, officially receiving payment only for school expenses. The long-overdue policy change is expected to drive millions more dollars into the hands of athletes who previously worked for an organization that in recent years consistently made over billions of dollars annually. The state of affairs before the decision smacked of inequality, where coaching salaries exploded while many classrooms deteriorated. All the while, many athletes failed to make it to the professional leagues, suffering lasting disadvantages from years of extreme pressures on their bodies and focus on unpaid sports labor at the expense of developing other skills. In particular, experts believe this new change will positively impact women in sports, who enjoy “few lucrative opportunities in professional sports compared with men but often enjoy large and loyal audiences in their college years.” Now that the ceiling on player pay has lifted, perhaps the time has come to revisit college athletes’ unions.

Transparency is often suggested as a remedy to helping resolve wage disparities in the workplace, especially the gender pay gap. Recent evidence suggests that more may be needed to resolve wage inequities in the workplace. Buffer, a social media company, made public its entire staff’s salaries in an attempt to close its 4% wage gap between men and women. Yet years later, the gap has remained. In part this is because although the wages are now set algorithmically based on job title and cost of living, many of the positions that pay more are simply held by men. The policy has nonetheless come with other benefits, such as an increased applicant pool to work for the company, and at least some indication employees are more committed to the company since it is serious about tackling the issues.

The pandemic has been exhausting for workers, leading to some companies to be proactive about providing relief for their workers. In an effort to avoid employee burnout, and amid a labor market where tolerance for lower pay if declining, some employers are retaining employee benefits launched during the pandemic. Increased paid time off, child- and elder-care benefits, and more flexible work schedules continue in firms ranging from PepsiCo and Verizon to Mozilla, the web browser company. For example, Fidelity “is granting U.S. full-time and part-time employees five additional paid ‘relief days’ for unexpected events, as well as elder- and child-care coordinators to help find and vet caregivers or tutors.” Marriott is encouraging its employees to avoid Friday meetings. Even if days off are helpful, it does not ameliorate the pile-up of emails. For that reason, many companies are adopting a company-wide shutdown to make time off more meaningful. Others have adopted unlimited days off to be competitive with other employers. Many of these changes have improved morale, reduced burnout, and improved concrete performance, such as meeting attendance. This demonstrates that investing in workers is a good choice for business and one that hopefully remains as the coronavirus pandemic recedes.

Workers at Dave & Buster’s in Arizona have filed suit against the company, alleging it “systematically underpays dozens of servers and bartenders by taking a tip-credit from their hourly pay, while not fully complying with Fair Labor Standards Act and Arizona wage rules.” The restaurant required its bartenders and servers to spend 20% of their time doing non-tipped service work, such as “setting up for private events, running the dishwasher, and taking out trash.” This conflicts with its wage structure, which depends on tips to be compliant with the law. The suit further alleges that the company required employees to buy their own uniforms without compensation and failed to inform employees about key information about the wages they were supposed to receive. The case is York v. Dave & Buster’s Inc. , D. Ariz., No. 2:21-cv-01130, 6/29/21.

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