Football players vote today on unionization

    Orko Manna/ North by Northwestern

    Photo by Orko Manna / North by Northwestern

    Northwestern football players today became the first collegiate athletes in history to vote on whether or not to unionize.

    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conducted the vote, which concluded around noon.

    The football team started its petition to unionize back in January, with senior Kain Colter leading the charge. Chicago NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr ruled last month that Northwestern football players on scholarship do in-fact qualify as university employees. Northwestern University responded by issuing an appeal to the full NLRB in Washington, D.C.

    Although today’s vote is a step forward for those in favor of unionization, the NLRB granted the university’s request to review Ohr’s decision. According to a Northwestern University press release, the NLRB said Northwestern’s request “raises substantial issues warranting review.” That means today’s votes won’t be counted until the whole process is completed, which could take months.

    But, if the petition is successful, the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) will represent the players. In a press release, CAPA said today’s vote “demonstrates that amateurism is a myth,” and that the student-athletes involved in the petition deserve to be employees of the university.

    After the vote took place, Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage said Northwestern stayed within NCAA guidelines in response to allegations that Northwestern engaged in unfair labor practices during its campaign against unionization.

    “We communicated with all of the audiences that we felt would be appropriate,” Cubbage said.

    Despite all the recent developments surrounding the case, Cubbage said Northwestern’s position in the matter remains firm.

    “We believe strongly that our students are students, first and foremost,” Cubbage said. “They are not employees.”

    Cubbage went on to say that Northwestern doesn’t believe unionization and “collective bargaining” are the appropriate methods for the athletes to take. Although the university does not approve of the athletes’ attempt to unionize, Cubbage commended and encouraged a “stronger student voice” in the discussion.

    “Frankly, I give them a lot of credit,” Cubbage said. “I think they have been handling themselves in a very mature fashion.”

    In the end, today’s events don’t change anything. The vote happened – and now it’s just a waiting game.

    And although it will take months for the voting results to be released, CAPA said the NU football team has already won. CAPA stated today’s vote “has signaled the biggest victory yet for players in the war for college athletes’ rights.”


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