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Employment Blog

First Quarter Touchdown for Student Athletes

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on March 28, 2014
Filed under Employment

Football players under scholarship at Northwestern University can unionize based upon a decision from the Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board. This is a touchdown in the first quarter for the student athletes as this is the first stage in a litigation that will likely run for several years. The Regional Director held that the student athletes playing football for Northwestern University (a private institution) could form the union called College Athletics Players Association which is sponsored by the United Steel Workers Union.

A vote is likely to be held in the near future. The leaders of the Players Association want compensation for scholarships, medical expenses and an increase in athletic scholarship funding from the University.

The fundamental question in the Ruling was whether the student athletes were actually employees of Northwestern University. The Regional Director concluded that they were "employees" because the University exercised a high-degree of control over their day-to-day activities such that they were considered employees of the University. This is an amazing stretch of the definition of an employee and could lead to a significant change in how we view whether someone is an "employee" of a company. The concept of independent contractors may very well disappear if this type of reasoning continues.

Employers must be careful and pay attention to this ruling because it may change a fundamental view of who is an employee of a company. It is predicted that this litigation will extend for two-plus years before there is any type of final ruling so we don't have to change how we consider employees right now. It is, however, amazing to think that an athlete going to school is considered an employee of the university simply because they are coached to play football and subject to player rules as a member of the team.