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March 26, 2014

Big win at NLRB for Northwestern athletes

by Dan Rodriguez

UPDATE: Professor Zev Eigen discusses implications of the NLRB ruling on public radio

 

The National Labor Relations Board today decided that Northwestern University football players are employees, and that means the players can vote on whether to form a union.

Peter Sung Ohr, Director of the NLRB’s Chicago office, wrote in his ruling:

College Athletes Players Association (“the Petitioner”) is a labor organization within the meaning of the Act. At the hearing, the Employer stipulated that the Petitioner was a labor organization if two conditions were met: (1) its football players who receive grant-in-aid scholarships are found to be “employees” within the meaning of the Act; and (2) the petitioned-for-unit was found to be an appropriate unit within the meaning of the Act. I find that both of these conditions have been met.

Here is a link to the decision, with thanks to Inside Higher Ed for posting it. It’s a lengthy document but well worth a read. It describes some of the cultural and financial mechanics that operate behind Northwestern football—mechanics that are certainly not unique to one school.

Many legal experts were not optimistic that the students would prevail, including my colleague Zev Eigen, who is one of the media’s go-to experts on this subject. In January Zev wrote a great post for this blog in which he described the relevant history and precedents, and suggested the law be revisited to clarify “…categories of work that now dominate the employment landscape.”

It’s fascinating stuff.

The NCAA, not surprisingly, disagrees with the decision, and the University will likely appeal, so this is a story that is only beginning to be told. Judging from the incredible public interest—this exploded on social media today, in case you didn’t notice—we can expect a lot of conversation around these issues. And that’s a big win, too.

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