NLRB: University Athletes Can Vote to Form a Union

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The National Labor Relations Board has a ruling which could be the top of the iceberg for how college and university athletes are treated financially going forward.

The NLRB website has a ruling in favor of athletes against Northwestern University that states,

Regional Director, Peter Sung Ohr, has issued a Decision in 13-RC-121359 finding the Grant-in-aid scholarship football players are employees under the NLRA and has directed an election to take place. The parties have until April 9, 2014 to file with the Board in Washington, D.C. a Request for Review of the Decision.

Northwestern has reportedly already said that it disagrees and will appeal the decision by the April 9 deadline. The 24-page decision is between Northwestern University as the employer and the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) as the petitioner. The third point is where the matter stands out the most:

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. I find that both of these conditions have been met. See also Boston Medical Center, 330 NLRB 152, 165 (1999) (where Board found that the petitioner was a labor organization since employer’s interns, residents, and fellows were employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the Act). Further, notwithstanding the Employer’s conditional stipulation, I find that the Petitioner is a labor organization within the meaning of the Act for the reasons set forth in Section IV (F) of this decision.

The “Decision” on page-two states that players receiving scholarships from the employer are “employees” and it was also ordered that an election be conducted under the direction of the Regional Director for Region 13 in the following appropriate bargaining unit:

“Eligible to vote are all football players receiving football grant-in-aid scholarship and not having exhausted their playing eligibility employed by the Employer located at 1501 Central Street, Evanston, Illinois, but excluding office clerical employees and guards, professional employees and supervisors as defined in the Act.”

Full details of the 24-page ruling are here. It is hard to know if this will be the benchmark ruling that starts waves and waves of similar efforts and rulings or not, but it will almost certainly be discussed on national sports and labor shows for weeks and weeks – if not longer.