Northwestern University football players who want to unionize had their petition tossed out on Monday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which opted against asserting jurisdiction in the case.
The board's decision essentially stymies the efforts by the football players to seek union representation by the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA).
The NLRB said, in part, that asserting jurisdiction in the case "would not promote labor stability" and could adversely impact competition.
In dismissing the union petition filed by CAPA, the NLRB did not answer whether the student athletes are employees of the university. That means the door has not been shut on the prospect of other college athletes being allowed to unionize.
In response to today's NLRB decision to dismiss the union petition, Northwestern University issued a statement, which read in part:
As the University has stated previously, Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost. We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we believe strongly that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes. We are pleased that the NLRB has agreed with the University's position.
Northwestern's position remains that participation in athletics is part of the overall educational experience for our student-athletes, not a separate activity. Therefore, we intend to continue to work with our students, and others, to address the issues regarding the long-term health impact of playing intercollegiate sports, providing additional grant-in-aid support and providing academic support and opportunities for student-athletes.
UPDATE (6:12 p.m.): U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9) released the following statement in response to Monday's NLRB decision:
I am disappointed by the decision of the NLRB to overturn an earlier ruling allowing Northwestern football players to unionize.
The latest NLRB decision is based on the claim that allowing one school's athletes to unionize would upset competition with other schools - it did not come to a decision as to whether college athletes are employees.
As I have said in the past, these athletes dedicate 40-plus hours a week to their sport, helping to raise millions of dollars for the University each year. They deserve to stand on an even playing field with the University in negotiating for better health coverage while they are playing for their school and after their careers end, for guaranteed four-year scholarships, and for a say in practice time and intensity. This decision denies them that opportunity.
Last year, I had a chance to meet Kain Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback who mobilized this effort. His candor, humility, and commitment to this effort - even though he can no longer directly benefit from the formation of a union - was inspiring.
Northwestern University is one of the best universities in the nation, and its players benefit from tremendous opportunities inside and outside the classroom and in life after football. That being said, the demands these players have made are reasonable and modest, and they have been denied an opportunity to form a union. As Tim Waters of the United Steelworkers said last year, 'just because [Northwestern is] a good employer doesn't mean they're not an employer.'
To a large extent, I believe the NCAA was to blame for the problems Northwestern players were trying to address. But the NCAA's stranglehold on college athletes and their schools is beginning to loosen.
Last August, the NCAA granted partial autonomy to the Big 10 Conference, of which Northwestern is a member, and four other major athletic conferences. Those conferences then elected to give their schools the option of offering scholarships that meet the full cost of attendance, ensuring that student-athletes are not left with thousands in debt each year on top of their full-time jobs in sports. The Big 10 has also followed Northwestern's lead in guaranteeing four-year scholarships to its recruits (NU has done so since 2011). And the Pac-12 Conference guaranteed four years of medical coverage to student-athletes injured while competing for their schools. I urge all eligible schools to take those same steps.
The Northwestern unionization effort has played a major role in moving college athletics in the right direction. That being said, I am sorry that the NLRB has decided against college athletes seeking a seat at the table, and I look forward to further efforts that would allow players the right to bargain collectively.