Published Date: 03/31/2014
By George Ports
In a “head scratching” decision that could change the face of college athletics as we know it, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that football players at Northwestern University who receive full scholarships could unionize. The decision was made March 26, 2014 by NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr, who stated in a 24-page decision that the players “fall squarely” within the broad definition of employee.
Under US law, an “employee” is regarded as someone who, among other things, receives compensation for a service and is under the strict, direct control of managers. Ohr reasoned that in the case of the Northwestern players, coaches are the managers and scholarships are a form of compensation.
Northwestern University officials stated that while the school respects “the NLRB process and the regional director’s opinion, we disagree with it.” According to reports, the University will appeal the Board’s ruling. It has also been reported that Northwestern scholarship players would vote within 30 days on whether to formally authorize the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) to represent them. Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter took a leading role in establishing the CAPA, receiving financial support to pay for legal bills from The United Steelworkers Union.
Keep in mind that Northwestern University is a private school. While this decision, if it stands, could affect athletes at private universities in North Carolina, it would have minimal effect on athletes enrolled at public universities. While public employees can be members of a labor organization, it is prohibited by state law for them to be under a collective bargaining agreement.
CAI will keep you informed as to how this story unfolds. For further information about the NLRB, go to their website at http://www.nlrb.gov/.