The recent National Labor Relations Board decision to allow lacrosse officials in the PIAA to unionize has left more questions than answers. One thing is for sure.
Everything is open to negotiation.
The NLRB ruled this month lacrosse officials who are sent to public and private school games in Western Pennsylvania are employees of a state athletic association, not independent contractors.
The 2-1 result rejecting the PIAA appeal from a 2015 suit means the Office and Professional Employees International Union can represent approximately 140 officials who work high school and junior high school games in the Pittsburgh area.
“We’re very pleased with the decision and we’re excited the labor board has said what we believed all along,” said Mario Seneca, who is representing the lacrosse officials for the OPEIU.
This is the first time high school officials have asserted they have rights under the NLRB. Many states have loosely based organizations whose representatives negotiate the contracts.
Seneca believes unionizing will take place in other sports after the success of this case.
“The level of interest varies across the state, but there is no doubt we have the interest to expand this across sports in the PIAA,” he said.
Seneca said there are many issues that need to be addressed, aside from pay. He said the union will evaluate PIAA policies on supervision and evaluation of officials, transparency in assigning officials to games and other “unilateral policies we have no voice or say on.”
The PIAA is determining what options remain now that the NLRB failed to rule in its favor.
“We think the NLRB has erred, as determined by the chairman’s decision,” said PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi. “That means we’re going to take our time to review the decision and see what’s in the best interests of the association. We’ll take what avenues are available to us to fight it or reject it.”
Lombardi said the arrangement for paying official fees is not uniform across the state.
“In some sports, the individual schools determine (official’s fee),” said Lombardi. “Some have leagues or conferences that determine it. It’s a hodge podge throughout the state. Every area seems to be different.”
And Lombardi believes the unionization of other sports officials would create a chaotic atmosphere and hopes that does not develop.
“I don’t think the officials want that,” said Lombardi. “Think about how they would feel about being employees. … Right now, if you get a game, you can turn it down (as an independent contractor). Does that mean if you (as an employee) get a game and turn it down, you are refusing to work? Would there be action taken? There are a whole lot of questions that need to be answered. If I were an official, I’d be petrified.”