Labor Board Dunks On Employer's Contractor Classification Attempt.


NBA's Timberwolves Foul Out In Front Of NLRB

In a ruling sure to leave businesses and gig economy companies crying foul, the National Labor Relations Board concluded that workers producing electronic video display content for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves were misclassified as independent contractors and are actually employees. The Board's 2-1 decision, announced on August 18, is a setback for businesses seeking certainty in their classification decisions, and is a reminder that the current roster of Labor Board members remains decidedly pro-worker and pro-union. Until the Board is comprised of a majority of Republican appointees, businesses need to be wary in their approach to classification situations (In re Minnesota Timberwolves Basketball LP).

The Key Players: Electronic Content Producers

Just like any game of basketball, every classification dispute centers around two competing parties: the workers and the business. The business in this case is Minnesota Timberwolves Basketball LP, which owns both the NBA's Timberwolves and the WNBA's Lynx, both of which play their home games at Target Arena in Minneapolis. Between the two teams, there are some 60 or so games per year played at the arena, and at each game, a roster of specialized crewmembers ensures the fans stay entertained and informed.

On the other side of the contest are those crewmembers, classified by the Timberwolves as independent contractors. At every game, a crew of 16 workers ensures that the arena's four-sided video display board displays live game footage, replays of critical action, real-time statistics, video shots of the crowd, advertisements, pre-produced video content, and other graphic displays. The 16 spots are filled from a roster of 51 individuals who are each qualified to perform a variety of roles - camera operators, replay operators, technical directors, engineers, and similar jobs.

In February 2016, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking to represent the workers and form a union. However, because only employees and not independent contractors can unionize, the key question in this representation petition was whether the workers were properly classified. Although the NLRB's Regional Director sided with the NBA team and concluded the workers were correctly designated as independent contractors, the union stepped up on behalf of the workers and requested review by the Labor Board....

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