NLRB Rules That Northwestern University Football Players Can't Unionize

Document created by 1002043 on Aug 21, 2015
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On March 26, 2014 NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr in a 24 page decision ruled that full scholarship football players at Northwestern University could unionize.   Now after eighteen months the full National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that Division I football players at Northwestern University can't unionize.  This Board decision is a major win for Northwestern and other universities, giving them much relief that they don’t have to engage in collective bargaining with athletes and their union representatives.


In it's ruling, the board wrote "After careful consideration of the record and arguments of the parties and amici, we have determined that, even if the scholarship players were statutory employees (which, again, is an issue we do not decide), it would not effectuate the policies of the [National Labor Relations] Act to assert jurisdiction. Our decision is primarily premised on a finding that, because of the nature of sports leagues (namely the control exercised by the leagues over the individual teams) and the composition and structure of FBS football (in which the overwhelming majority of competitors are public colleges and universities over which the Board cannot assert jurisdiction), it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction in this case."


The decision is surprising especially in light of the fact after a year and a half earlier NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr strongly criticized the entire collegiate system in his 24 page decision. This decision puts the unionization movement of college athletes on hold.  At present, there are no active unionization petitions involving college football players


Keep in mind that Northwestern University is a private school.  If Ohr’s decision had not been overturned, it could have affected athletes at private universities. In North Carolina it would have had minimal affect 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.


For further information about the NLRB  and this decision, go to their website at


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