Northwestern Football Players Allowed To Unionize

The National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday in favor of Northwestern football players and asserted that they did have a right to unionize, were recognized formally as employees of the university, and set up a future collective bargaining agreement showdown between the players and the University.

In their ruling, the NLRB stated that:
“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.”

Currently, the players on scholarship receive grant-in-aid totaling $61,000 each academic year, as well as being provided a monthly stipend totaling between $1,200 and $1,600 to cover their living expenses. Under current NCAA regulations, the Employer is prohibited from offering its players additional compensation for playing football at its institution with one exception. The Employer is permitted to provide its players with additional funds out of a “Student Assistance Fund” to cover certain expenses such as health insurance, dress clothes required to be worn by the team while traveling to games, the cost of traveling home for a family member’s funeral, and fees for graduate school admittance tests and tutoring. The players do not have FICA taxes withheld from the scholarship monies they receive, nor do they receive a W-2 tax form.

This ruling, issued by Peter Sung Ohr, the National Labor Relations Board’s regional director, sets a historic precedent in the distinction between student-athlete and employee. Ohr cited football players’ time commitment to their sport, which goes upwards of 50-60 hours/week on football related activities, as one of the reasons for his ruling, as well as the fact that scholarships were awarded or rescinded directly to their performance on the field.

The ruling also cited the revenues and expenses generated by the University’s football program (for the 2012-2013 academic year, the University reported that its football program generated $30.1 million in revenue and $21.7 million in expenses).

For more information on labor defense, union negotions & arbitration, please visit our labor & employment litigation page.

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