The unionization efforts of the football players of Northwestern University are starting to pay off. On Wednesday, a National Labor Relations Board official ruled that the players have the right to form a union as they are considered employees of the university. As such, they may vote in a union election and they also have the right to bargain collectively.
The petition toward the ruling was submitted to the NLRB by the newly-formed College Athletes Players Association, headed by former UCLA football player Ramogi Huma. The petition was submitted in January, and in February a hearing for it spanned three weeks.
Peter Ohr, the regional director of the NLRB, stated in a 24-page decision that all of the football players granted scholarships by Northwestern University are eligible to form a union. His decision was based on a number of factors, including the amount of time they spend for football-related activities, which could amount to as many as 50 hours in a week.
In addition, the scholarships also serve as contracts for compensation, or a form of payment in exchange for the work done on the football field, which earns money for the NCAA and its member universities. For Ohr, it is clear that there is a transfer of economic value and employer-employee relationship: the university, as the employer, pays for the players’ room, board, tuition, and other necessities provided by the scholarship.
The NCAA has been facing criticism for its profiting from basketball and football players, as they earn billions of dollars every year. In a statement, the NCAA expressed its disappointment with Ohr’s ruling. Donald Remy, their chief legal officer, stated that they disagree with the belief that student-athletes are considered employees.
One of the base arguments was whether the scholar players were students, or employees, or if they were somehow hybrids.
Ohr’s decision cited examples supporting his conclusion. He says that the football players were different from other students in that they were on campus basically to play. Football players are also recruited for what they can do on the field and not in the classroom. In addition, part of the team’s guidelines include drug testing, which other students are not subjected to. Other students can also refuse a friend request from a professor, but players cannot do the same when a coach adds them on Facebook.
Ohr’s ruling applies to the football players on scholarship in private Northwestern University, but the precedent may be applied to all of the scholarship football players in Division I private institutions as well.
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