Northwestern football players take unionization vote


Alex Putterman/Daily Senior Staffer

NLRB officials exit McGaw Hall with ballots submitted in the Northwestern football union election. Players voted Friday morning on whether to unionize but results could be months away.

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

After weeks of fact-finding and deliberation, Northwestern scholarship football players voted Friday morning on whether to form a union.

The votes will not be counted until after the National Labor Relations Board rules on NU’s appeal of last month’s ruling that players are University employees. However, several media outlets have cited sources predicting the union will be voted down.

No current players spoke to the media at any length, but once the voting period was over, NU spokesman Al Cubbage delivered a statement affirming the position that NU opposes the union but supports players’ desire for change.

“We agree that there currently are important issues regarding college athletics nationally and that students should have a voice in those discussions,” Cubbage said. “However, we believe that a collective bargaining process at Northwestern would not advance the discussion of these topics, in large part because most of the issues being raised by the union are outside the purview of Northwestern.”

Athletic director Jim Phillips also issued a statement.

“We deeply appreciate each and every one of the young men who came out today and allowed their voices to be heard,” Phillips said. “Northwestern strongly believes in these issues that have been raised and has been a leader in several of these areas, including awarding four-year scholarships and providing extended medical benefits.”

Former walk-on Michael Odom quit the team several months ago and would not have had a vote regardless due to not being under scholarship. Still, he expressed his support for the union anyway. Odom said he has heard from teammates that various outside influences have attempted to sway the players’ votes to an extent that bothered him.

“I know a lot of my teammates have been influenced by former players as well as coaches and officials at the University,” Odom said. “A lot of (former players) are trying to convey that by voting for the union, my teammates would be betraying Northwestern, betraying the football family.”

Odom’s comments echoed a growing concern that NU’s campaign against the union in recent weeks has violated NLRB rules, but Cubbage said those allegations “simply are not true.”

“During the period leading up to the election, Northwestern conducted its campaign in a lawful and appropriate manner consistent with NLRB rules and guidelines,” he said. “Northwestern has stated its case clearly and consistently, explaining why it does not believe unionization is the appropriate mechanism for its scholarship football players to achieve their goals and objectives.”

If the NLRB ruling is upheld and the players vote “yes” for the union, they would form the College Athletes Players Association. CAPA released a statement Friday calling the situation a “win-win.”

“Today is special because college athletes exercised their rights under labor laws, rights the NCAA has fought hard to deny them,” CAPA president Ramogi Huma said.

The release also included a quote from former Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter, who spearheaded the unionization movement at NU.

“I’m proud of what the Northwestern football team has accomplished,” Colter said. “They are giving a voice to the voiceless and empowering current and future college athletes.”

CAPA emphasized that in the big picture, the union vote is less important than the NLRB ruling. If the NLRB upholds its previous ruling, NU players will have employee status even if they vote not to unionize. This could enable future NU teams to consider unionization and set a precedent for athletes at other private institutions to pursue unions as a means of gaining the ability to bargain for additional benefits.

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