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N.L.R.B. Denies Request From Northwestern Football Players Seeking Union (Read More…)

By BEN STRAUSS AUG. 17, 2015

The National Labor Relations Board on Monday dismissed a petition by Northwestern football players who were seeking to unionize, effectively denying their claim that they were university employees. In a unanimous decision that was a clear victory for the college sports establishment, the five-member Board declined to exert its jurisdiction in the case and preserved, for now, one of the N.C.A.A.’s core principles: that college athletes are primarily students.

The board did not rule directly on the central question in the case — whether the players are university employees — but the decision is a major setback to the union movement in college sports, which was led by the former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and backed by the College Athletes Players Association, a United Steelworkers ¬supported group that sought to represent the players.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, N.L.R.B. officials explained that the novelty of the case — no other single team in a sports league had come before the Board seeking to unionize — was a factor in its decision that would have wide-ranging consequences for college sports. The board decided that allowing one team to collectively bargain would not promote stability in the labor market and could upset competitive balance in college sports. It could also potentially conflict with the rules set by Northwestern’s conference, the Big Ten, and the N.C.A.A.

The N.L.R.B., which has jurisdiction only over the private sector, was also reluctant to wade into territory that would have affected public universities. The vast majority of top-level college football programs are from public colleges, and Northwestern is the only private institution in the Big Ten. The College Athletes Players Association cannot appeal Monday’s decision, an N.L.R.B. official said.

In announcing the union push last year, Colter had argued players deserved a greater say in issues like player safety and long-term health care, given the billions of dollars they help generate for their universities and the N.C.A.A.

Peter Ohr, a regional director of the N.L.R.B. in Chicago, ruled last year that players on scholarship were employees based on the number of hours they spent each week on football, the strict rules set by coaches and the financial aid they received as payment. Northwestern football players — 76 were eligible — voted whether to certify the union last April, but the votes were impounded pending a ruling by the full N.L.R.B. Now that the Board has ruled in favor of Northwestern, the ballots will not be counted.

The board did not overturn Ohr’s finding, and it left open the possibility that it could reexamine the issue if it faces a similar case in the future.

 

Posted by Admin on 08/17 at 11:02 AM
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