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Results of Northwestern University Football Players’ Historic Vote May Never Be Known

by Katherine Tracy

The football players at Northwestern University engaged in an historic vote on April 25, 2014 – whether the players should unionize. The vote was made possible by a decision by Region 13 of the National Labor Relations Board that held the football players are “employees” of the University.

The vote proceeded by secret ballot but the results may never be known. On April 24, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board, located in Washington, D.C., granted the University’s request to review the Regional NLRB decision. Because the original decision “raises substantial issues warranting review”, the NLRB agreed to review the case. In the meantime, the results of Friday’s secret ballot will be sealed. Depending on the NLRB’s decision, which is not anticipated for several months, the results of the ballot may never be known.

However, the future decision of the NLRB may have a larger impact on college athletics. As an “employee”, players are not only entitled to wages for their work, but also may be eligible for overtime pay, vacation pay, sick pay, severance pay, etc. They may also have the ability to seek unemployment in certain circumstances. And, as employees, certain anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII and the Americans With Disabilities Act and state law equivalents, must be taken into consideration. Are these issues the Regional NLRB considered when issuing the decision that the football players are “employees”? Will these issues have any impact on how colleges treat their athletes?

For now, these questions are theoretical. But, a decision by the NLRB upholding the Regional NLRB’s decision that Northwestern’s football players are “employees” may have far-reaching effects beyond the football team at Northwestern.

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Posted in employment, General

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