Feds Butt Out Of College Football Dispute

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Federal labor officials decided Monday not to intervene in a labor dispute involving Northwestern University football players wanting to form a union.

The dispute centers on whether college football players who received grants could be considered employees. As employees, the players would have the right to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), however, decided it was best not to get involved.

The decision ultimately means the student athletes have lost their bid to unionize. This is because the college was against the idea. Without labor officials telling them otherwise, the university is now free to reject the unionizing effort.

The case started in 2014 when the NLRB regional director for Chicago Peter Ohr ruled that Northwestern football players with scholarships were employees of the college. He argued that the players benefitted the college by generating revenue as well as increasing alumni donations. The university, however, appealed the decision.

“The Board did not determine if the players were statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act,” the NLRB said in its decision. “Instead, the Board exercised its discretion not to assert jurisdiction and dismissed the representation petition filed by the union.”

The decision was voted on unanimously by all five members of the board. If the board instead decided to uphold the decision, it would have been a huge win for unions. The labor movement has tried to make its way on college campuses with campaigns to organize faculty and student athletes.

“In the decision, the Board held that asserting jurisdiction would not promote labor stability due to the nature and structure of NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision,” the decision continued. “By statute the Board does not have jurisdiction over state-run colleges and universities, which constitute 108 of the roughly 125 FBS teams. In addition, every school in the Big Ten, except Northwestern, is a state-run institution.”

According to Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of Economics21 and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, deciding that student athletes are employees could be devastating. She writes for Market Watch, as employees their scholarships would be taxed, it would mean students that get scholarships and those that don’t would be treated differently and it would disenfranchise those sports that don’t create revenue.

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