Northwestern football players allowed to unionize, NLRB rules

BY Margaret Myers  March 26, 2014 at 4:46 PM EDT
The National Labor Relations Board ruled on Wednesday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees and can unionize. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter testified on behalf of the College Athletes Players Association, which brought the case. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The National Labor Relations Board ruled on Wednesday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees and can unionize. Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter testified on behalf of the College Athletes Players Association, which brought the case. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In a decision that may have a huge impact on college athletics, the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Wednesday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees and can unionize.

NLRB Director Peter Sung Ohr wrote in his ruling that football players are not “primarily students” and that they are subject to the university’s control in their performance as football players.

“The players spend 50 to 60 hours per week on their football duties during a one-month training camp prior to the start of the academic year and an additional 40 to 50 hours per week on those duties during the three or four month football season. Not only is this more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs, it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies,” Ohr wrote.

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter testified that his coaches discouraged him from taking demanding classes and ultimately he was unable to pursue a pre-med major. Colter further testified that those players receiving scholarships were not permitted to miss football practice during the regular season if they had a class conflict.

The National College Players Association, backed by the United Steelworkers union, filed a petition to unionize in January.

Northwestern issued a statement shortly after the ruling saying it would appeal to the full NLRB in Washington, ESPN reports.

The decision, if upheld, would only apply to private schools, since public universities are subject to state labor laws.