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Northwestern University Football Players Plan to Unionize

A group of college football players will file a petition to form the first official players union in the history of collegiate sports, with the help of the National Collegiate Players Association.

President of the nonprofit group, Ramogi Huma, filed a petition in Chicago on behalf of the football players at Northwestern University. Huma also filed union cards signed by an undisclosed number of Northwestern players with the NLRB – the federal statutory body that recognizes groups that seek collective bargaining rights. “Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections,” Huma said.

The NCAA has spend years involved in disputes over the rights of its athletes, the biggest of which is the lawsuit from current and former players that argues players should have control over the use of their names, images, and likenesses and share in the revenues they help create. That poses a major threat to the NCAA, because a loss would mean a rejiggering of its financial model to give players a cut of revenues.

The creation of a union among these college athletes would be a great step forward by requiring the classification of athletes as employees who had the right to organize, bargain, and earn compensation for their labor. Labor lawyers, advocates for paying players, and some college professors have argued that athletes should be considered employees. They argue that Division I football is basically a business and students are exploited as workers and should therefore be compensated for their labor.

The Northwestern case will go before an NLRB with unsettled law on this issue. Unlike public schools, which are covered by state law, Northwestern and other private universities are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, and the NLRB hasn’t clearly determined how to approach these issues legally. A victory for Northwestern would cover other athletes at private universities, but not to those at public schools.

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