March 24, 2014

In Northwestern University, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Regional Director for Region 13 issued a decision which found that Northwestern University college football players that receive grant-in-aid scholarships from Northwestern University are considered employees under National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Even though this is a single region’s decision, it is groundbreaking as it is the first case in which the NLRB has ruled that student athletes are deemed employees pursuant to the NLRA as employees of a university.  Accordingly, such students are permitted to unionize. Northwestern quickly issued a statement of its plan to appeal the decision to the panel (Board) heading the NLRB’s judicial functions in Washington, D.C. In its statement, Northwestern said:

‘While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director’s opinion, 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. Northwestern plans to appeal today’s decision to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. The University will continue to explore all of its legal options in regard to this issue.’

It is likely that after all of the possible appeals and follow on litigation from this decision, this case will take many years to come to a final determination.