In a unanimous decision, the National Labor Relations Board announced Monday it has denied Northwestern football players the ability to unionize. The decision overturns a March 2014 decision by the local Chicago chapter that temporarily grated the team permission to form a union.
Seventy-six players were eligible to vote on whether or not to form that union in April 2014. The votes were collected but never counted, and due to the NLRB's binding decision, will now be destroyed.
Notably, the board did not rule on whether or not college football players are employees of a university, only that unionization would not "effectuate the policies of the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) to promote stability in labor relations."
The national board's decision undoes what was a strong decision from the regional office, but the board stated that its decision was driven by the fact that the original unionization push applied only to private schools. "By statute the Board does not have jurisdiction over state-run colleges and universities, which constitute 108 of the roughly 125 FBS teams. In addition, every school in the Big Ten, except Northwestern, is a state-run institution," the board noted. "As the NCAA and conference maintain substantial control over individual teams, the Board held that asserting jurisdiction over a single team would not promote stability in labor relations across the league."
From the National Labor Relations Board:
Here is a statement from head coach Pat Fitzgerald and athletics director Jim Phillips:
“Our focus is, was, and will continue to be on delivering a world-class experience — academically, socially and athletically — every day for each of our 494 student–athletes. Both locally at Northwestern, and broadly as chairman of the NCAA Division I Council, it has been remarkable over the last several years to witness the rapid evolution of college athletics with student-athlete well-being as the top priority. This outstanding university firmly believes in the paramount importance of the health, safety and well-being of its students and will continue to be a national leader, as it has been over the last several years with guaranteed, four-year, cost-of-attendance scholarships for all 19 varsity teams, extended medical benefits and unparalleled professional development programming.”
“Our young men chose to attend Northwestern to compete on the field at the highest level, earn a world-class education and prepare for the rest of their lives. They have displayed maturity beyond their years through this process, and the experience has unquestionably brought us closer together as a football family. This group posted the highest cumulative GPA in program history during the 2014-15 academic year, earned a record 38 Academic All-Big Ten honors last season and is excited to return to the field this fall to play the game they love and compete for a Big Ten championship."