College Athletes Can Unionize, Federal Agency Says

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) Northwestern University says it disagrees with the decision from a federal agency that found that the school's football players qualify as employees, and can create the nation's first union of college athletes.

The university, based in Evanston, Illinois, says it will appeal to labor authorities in Washington. The school has argued that college athletes, as students, don't fit into the same category as factory workers, truck drivers and other unionized workers.

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Sung Ohr, found that the players "fall squarely within" the definition of "employee" under federal labor law.

An employee is generally regarded by law as someone who gets compensation for a service and is under the direct control of managers. Players argued that their scholarships are compensation, and that their coaches are their managers.

The College Athletes Players Association, which would take the lead in organizing the players, wants guaranteed coverage of sports-related medical expenses for current and former players. It also wants better procedures to reduce head injuries. Other goals include potentially letting players pursue commercial sponsorships.

But critics say letting players unionize could raise the prospects of strikes by disgruntled players, or lockouts by athletic departments.

For now, the push is on to unionize athletes at private schools such as Northwestern. The federal agency doesn't have jurisdiction over public universities.

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