Updated: NLRB rules in favor of Northwestern players union

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

A Northwestern football players union is one step closer to reality.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday in favor of the College Athletes Players Association, affirming CAPA’s claim that student-athletes are University employees.

“This was a win on all fronts,” said Tim Waters, political director at United Steelworkers, which has supported CAPA throughout the unionization process. “We think the NLRB got it right. And we’re pretty happy.”

In statement issued shortly after the ruling, NU said it was “disappointed” with the ruling and announced its plans to appeal to the NLRB’s main office in Washington.

“While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director’s opinion, we disagree with it,” the statement said. “Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.”

The NCAA, which is not directly involved in the CAPA case but whose interests are largely at stake, issued its own statement, expressing displeasure with the NRLB ruling.

“We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer, said in the statement. “We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid.”

CAPA, led by former NU quarterback Kain Colter, seeks the opportunity to negotiate with the school for players’ rights. The union was first announced Jan. 28 at a news conference in Chicago, where Colter read a statement issued by his teammates, a majority of whom had signed union cards.

“We Northwestern football players are grateful for our opportunity to play football for a prestigious university and athletic program,” the team’s January statement said. “However, just as other athletes who compete in multibillion dollar industries have done, we must secure and maintain comprehensive protections, but asserting the rights afforded to us under labor laws.”

The NLRB decision comes a month after a five-day hearing process during which various witnesses, including Colter and NU coach Pat Fitzgerald, testified.

Now that the players have been ruled employees, Waters said CAPA has ordered an election and will proceed with the process of unionizing under the National Labor Relations Act.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add the NCAA’s statement.

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