|March 7, 2014|
Previously published on February 26, 2014
First we had unpaid student interns claiming to be employees. Now there is a new chapter in the "students claiming to be employees" story. On January 29, a union called the College Athletes Players Association, which receives funds from the United Steelworkers Union, filed a petition with the NLRB seeking to represent the players on Northwestern's football team. According to the Players' Association, the athletic scholarships that some players receive make them "employees" subject to NLRB jurisdiction. (Apparently non-scholarship and walk-on players are "second-class citizens," not employees).
The university, based in Evanston, Illinois, has said that it views the players (appropriately named "the Wildcats") as student-athletes and not employees. An NLRB hearing on the issue was held in mid-February in Chicago, and as of the time we went to press, there had been no reports about the outcome. A ruling of "employee" status would obviously have dramatic implications for private universities and colleges, and potentially all college sports. Although state-supported colleges are not subject to NLRB jurisdiction, why would they want to schedule games with teams that might go on strike or get locked out! And what about religious institutions with "big time" sports, like Notre Dame or Southern Methodist University? The NLRB may be looking for expanded jurisdiction there, too.
Over the years, the NLRB has been inconsistent in its treatment of graduate teaching assistants, who are not completely analogous to football players because the assistants are paid.