Northwestern appeals decision to allow football players to unionize

    Northwestern football players might not be allowed to unionize for long.

    Northwestern announced this afternoon that it has formally asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to reevaluate and overturn the recent decision by the regional board that stated Northwestern scholarship football players are employees and can be represented by a union.

    In the appeal filed today to the full national board in District of Columbia, Northwestern stated the regional director Peter Sung Ohr made an “unprecedented decision” on March 26 that “set out to alter the underlying premise upon which collegiate varsity sports is based.”

    The brief said the director ignored “overwhelming evidence establishing that its athletic program is fully integrated with its academic mission, and that it treats its athletes as students first.”

    Northwestern said it has the grounds to appeal Ohr’s decision because he failed to follow the legal precedents established in the board’s 2004 decision that graduate assistants at Brown University were primarily students, not employees. Additionally, Northwestern said the regional director relied too heavily on the testimony of Kain Colter — who admitted to wanting to play professionally — and ignored the testimony of players who chose to prioritize academics over football.

    “Based on the testimony of a single player,” the brief states, “the regional director described Northwestern’s football program in a way that is unrecognizable from the evidence actually presented at the hearing.”

    Instead the brief mentions the 97 percent graduation rate among Northwestern football players and the primary or secondary medical coverage the university provides for all of its student-athletes while they are in school and occasionally after they are no longer eligible.

    “While we respect the NLRB process, we disagree strongly with the regional director’s opinion. We hope that the full NLRB will not only review this decision but will hold that Northwestern’s football scholarship athletes are not employees, and the petition seeking an election for the players to vote on union representation will be dismissed,” said Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for University Relations. “We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we strongly believe that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address these concerns.”

    The board must respond to this appeal by April 16.


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