Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Will college athletes unionize? A query for NLRB
First Published Mar 30 2014 05:49 pm • Last Updated Mar 30 2014 05:49 pm

Washington • The five-member regulatory board that will ultimately decide if Northwestern University football players can unionize has itself been in the middle of a firestorm.

The very makeup of the National Labor Relations Board has been challenged in a case now before the Supreme Court. And Republicans contend the agency has being overly friendly to organized labor.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Northwestern said Friday that it would appeal to the full NLRB a regional director’s ruling that full scholarship players can be considered employees and thus have the right to form a union.

"Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns these students are raising," Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for university relations, said in a statement. "The life of a student athlete is extremely demanding, but the academic side and the athletic side are inextricably linked."

The appeal is due April 9, with the response from the players April 16. There’s no deadline for the full board to respond.

The current NLRB has a 3-2 Democratic majority. All five current members of the board were appointed by President Barack Obama. Members serve five-year terms.

Actually, the agency has been an easy target for opposition-party politicians in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Once, as the board found itself without a quorum because Senate Republicans were blocking a vote on two Obama nominees, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suggested that "the NLRB as inoperable could be considered progress."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, cites "the sorry relationship between unions, big government and the party of big government."

Democratic leaders dismiss such suggestions. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calls the board "an important safeguard for workers in America — whether the employees are union or nonunion."


story continues below
story continues below

The Supreme Court case involves appointments that Obama made to the board in January 2012 while Congress was not in session. The Constitution gives presidents broad authority to put high-level federal officials in place without seeking Senate confirmation when the chamber is in a recess of unspecified length. Presidents of both parties have taken advantage of the provision.

But Republicans and employers who objected to NLRB decisions made by the Obama appointments contend that the Senate wasn’t actually in recess when Obama made the appointments, so any decisions made by the board should not stand.

Although the court has not yet ruled, the makeup of the NLRB should not be an issue when it hears the Northwestern case.

The Senate voted last July to confirm Obama’s full slate of five nominees to the NLRB. That appeared to resolve questions of the legitimacy of two of the members who had received the recess appointments.

In the Northwestern case, Peter Ohr, a regional director of the NLRB, ruled that college athletes should be considered employees under federal law, granting them the ability to unionize.

He observed that their athletic scholarships were tied directly to their performance on the field.

"Northwestern players who stood up for their rights took a giant step for justice," said former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, the founder and president of the National College Players Association. "It’s going to set a precedent for college players across the nation to do the same."

However, Northwestern officials and other critics of the ruling said considering student athletes to be employees of a school just because they have scholarships is far-fetched.

"Even though college sports, mainly just at the football and men’s basketball division level, have become very commercialized, I don’t think that justifies professionalizing college sports," said Matt Mitten, a law school professor and director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.