Northwestern University has asked the full National Labor Relations Board to review and overturn a ruling by the NLRB's Chicago regional director that declared Northwestern scholarship football players employees and allowed them to be represented by a union.
The university claims the “unprecedented” ruling was based on the testimony of a single player who “chose to prioritize his professional athletic aspirations.”
“Instead of objectively setting forth relevant facts," Northwestern’s brief states, "the Regional Director’s decision reads like a brief submitted by an advocate, with the facts he chooses to stress set out in the text of the decision and those which do not support his predetermined outcome relegated to footnotes or completely ignored."
The regional director of the NLRB directed a secret ballot election be held to determine whether the players should be represented by the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA).
Northwestern University spokesman Alan K. Cubbage called the decision disappointing.
"While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director’s opinion," Cubbage said, "we disagree with it. 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."
Former Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter and other athletes were on Capitol Hill last week in hopes of gaining support from lawmakers in their efforts to unionize.
"The number one thing is just raising awareness and getting people in our corner," Colter said. "Especially people with this amount of status and the power that they do have, it'd be great to have their support."
Northwestern claims the NLRB director “misconstrued, disregarded and misapplied board precedent” when he ruled that precedent established in NLRB’s 2004 decision in Brown University, which ruled that graduate assistants were primarily students and not employees, did not apply.
CAPA's creation was announced in January after an "overwhelming majority" of Northwestern's team signed cards to apply for labor rights and representation by the union.
Colter co-founded CAPA and serves on its board of directors with former UCLA football player Ramogi Huma, who founded the union, and former basketball player Luke Bonner.
CAPA says the new union is necessary to "challenge the treatment of players under the current pay-for-play system for college athletes." It cites a court case in which the NCAA stated it has no legal duty to protect college athletes from injury.