NLRB says Northwestern players cannot form union

The National Labor Relations Board declined to rule on whether Northwestern scholarship football players are university employees. 
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Northwestern football players cannot form a union after the National Labor Relations Board unanimously dismissed their petition on Monday, declining to assert jurisdiction in the case. 

The NLRB did not rule on whether Northwestern scholarship football players are university employees.

The NLRB said that it could not assert jurisdiction due to the “nature and structure” of the FBS. The board acknowledged it didn't have jurisdiction over state schools, which constitute more than 85% of FBS teams. Northwestern is a private school. 

“As the NCAA and conference maintain substantial control over individual teams, the Board held that asserting jurisdiction over a single team would not promote stability in labor relations across the league,” the NLRB said in a release. 

In April 2014, the university requested a review of the initial unionization ruling, which was made the previous month by Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the NLRB in Chicago. At the time, Ohr voted in favor of the College Athletes Players Association, which was co-founded by former Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter that January. 

In April 2014, Northwestern football players voted on whether they want to unionize. A majority of the 76 eligible players would have to have voted in favor of unionization to organize under CAPA, but the voting results are nullified by the NLRB's decision to dismiss the petition. 

In his 24-page ruling from March, Ohr reasoned that scholarship football players at Northwestern fit the common law definition of an employee: "a person who performs services for another under a contract of hire, subject to the other’s control or right of control, and in return for payment."

Under Ohr’s interpretation, football is the service that players provide the university. They sign a "contract" called a tender that stipulates the conditions they must abide to keep their scholarship, which is a form of "payment." And coaches exert an extensive amount of "control" over their players' lives.

In the university's appeal of the ruling, it argued that Ohr disregarded and misapplied board precedent. 

- Chris Johnson and Molly Geary