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Northwestern Football Players' Unionization Vote: 5 Legal Facts

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Many Northwestern University football players are scheduled to vote Friday on whether they should be represented by a union. The result may change how the players are treated by the private university.

This vote comes after a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that players with athletic scholarships are actually university employees who can unionize, reports the Chicago Tribune.

With the college football unionization vote looming, here are five key legal facts to keep in mind:

1. The Vote Is About Unionizing Certain NU Football Players.

Friday's vote won't directly address the nationwide problem of how college athletes are compensated, just eligible football players at Northwestern University. College players at NU and various universities have felt undervalued and overworked, driving them to push for college players unions.

The NLRB paved the way for the first college players' unions by determining in March that certain Northwestern players were employees of the university and not just "student athletes." Northwestern has petitioned the NLRB for review of the decision, but Friday's vote will determine whether these eligible players want to be represented by a union.

2. Only Scholarship-Receiving Athletes Are Eligible.

The Tribune counts 76 players eligible to vote on unionizing. The NLRB only considered those players who received athletic scholarships to be "employees" of NU, so only those players will be allowed to vote and potentially unionize. None of the eligible players are required to vote.

3. If Players Vote 'Yes' on Unionization...

If a majority of eligible players who decide to vote side with unionizing, then the College Athletes Players Association would be able to bargain on behalf of the 76 eligible players. This organization could work to ensure that these student-employees are properly compensated for their work on the field.

4. If Players Vote 'No' on Unionization...

Some players are already regretting "signing a union card," and it is very possible that the union vote could swing against unionizing. Players will still have the rights to challenge their compensation as school employees in that case, but they will simply do so as individuals.

5. This Could Be a New Model for Other Colleges.

This union vote has the potential to stand as an example for other college athletes to emulate. Meantime, The New York Times reports that Ohio legislators have passed a bill barring college students from being considered employees.

Friday's union votes will not be revealed until the NLRB makes a final decision on the university's appeal.

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