Lacrosse Referees Clear Contractor Hurdle, Can Unionize

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

Lacrosse officials who are dispatched to public and private school games in western Pennsylvania are employees of a state athletic association, not independent contractors, a divided National Labor Relations Board held July 11.

As a result, the Professional Employees International Union can represent approximately 140 officials who referee high school and junior high school games in and around Pittsburgh, the board held in a 2-1 decision, declining to review an NLRB official’s earlier certification of the union ( Pa. Interscholastic Athletic Ass’n , 2017 BL 238231, 365 N.L.R.B. No. 107, 7/11/17 ).

Implications of the ruling could stretch beyond the borders of the keystone state; the NLRB’s chairman said all 50 states have governing bodies like the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

PIAA’s constitution gives it broad authority to set policies and procedures for selecting and referring officials to local schools, members Mark Gaston Pearce (D) and Lauren McFerran (D) said. Referees are screened, tested, and trained before they can officiate at public and private school games, and they must complete annual training to remain eligible for assignments, the board members found.

The association does not have supervisors physically present at lacrosse games, but Pearce and McFerran said that lack of direct supervision “reflects the nature of officiating, rather than suggesting independent-contractor status.”

The referees’ single-game appearances at Pennsylvania schools are short-term assignments, which might indicate they are independent contractors rather than employees, the board majority said. However, Pearce and McFerran said there has been an expectation that officials will have continued employment with PIAA as long as they pay annual dues and meet the association’s performance standards.

Calling the officials’ work an integral part of the scholastic association’s service to member schools, the two board members said the union was properly certified after it prevailed in a September 2015 vote on representation.

Dissenting, Chairman Philip A. Miscimarra (R) said there is no evidence that PIAA has ever disciplined a lacrosse official. PIAA does not review officials’ individual game calls or their overall performance, but relies on evaluations completed by school lacrosse coaches, the board chairman said.

The majority discounts “the near-total absence of oversight and supervision” of the lacrosse officials, Miscimarra said. The board should have reviewed and considered PIAA’s argument the officials are independent contractors, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at ldube@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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