National Labor Relations Board Will Decide If Northwestern Football Players Can Form A Union


Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter has led the fight to form the first college athletes players union.

The National Labor Relations Board announced Thursday that it has granted Northwestern University’s request to review the case involving the unionization of the university’s college athletes.

The regional director of the NLRB’s Chicago chapter ruled in March that the school’s college athletes were employees and could vote to form a union, but Northwestern disputed the decision and petitioned the NLRB to review the case. If the full NLRB rules in favor of the players, athletes at all private colleges and universities would gain the right to unionize.

Northwestern athletes will still vote Friday on whether they want to form a union under the College Athletes Players Association, which would be the first players union in the history of college athletics. The votes will be impounded until after the NLRB makes a final decision “affirming, modifying, or reversing the Regional Director’s decision,” the NLRB announced in its release. There is no set timetable for how long that decision will take, and it could be months if not years before a final outcome is reached in the case.

Northwestern has engaged in an all-out attempt to persuade its athletes that they don’t need a union, with coaches and administrators warning that such action would amount to “personal betrayal” that could jeopardize Northwestern’s Division I athletic status, other athletic programs, or athletic scholarships, the New York Times reported Thursday. The NCAA and representatives of many of its largest institutions have also come out against unionization, warning of dire consequences in an attempt to shift public opinion against it.

The athletes are seeking union rights to bargain with Northwestern on a host of issues related to educational opportunities, health care, scholarships, and concussion reforms.

“We expect another victory for athletes!” the United Steelworkers union, which has aided the College Athletes Players Association in its attempts to form a union, tweeted after the NLRB announced its decision to review the case.