Congressmen aim to block Northwestern players push to unionize

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Six Republican members of Congress seeking to quash the unionization of Northwestern University’s football team asked the National Labor Relations Board to overturn the decision of the labor board’s regional director, who deemed scholarship players were employees — opening the door for them to form a union.

A brief filed Thursday with the NLRB claimed the decision, if upheld, would confer employee status to countless additional student athletes. It was signed by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Rep. Phil Roe, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). 

The brief filed on behalf of the congressmen claims the decision “improperly applied principles from the workplace with the educational environment.”

It also states that if the players are employees, “then so are large numbers of students at every other private college and university who participate in programs that are ‘valuable’ to both the institution and the student.”

The brief was one of several filed under deadline that weighed in on either side of the matter.

The College Athletes Players Organization — the union that would represent the football players — filed a brief calling the university’s football program a “commercial enterprise” — a position backed by a brief from the AFL-CIO that claimed there is no question the players work for the university football program “in much the same way as professional athletes.”

The NLRB Chicago regional director, Peter Sung Ohr, found in March that the university’s scholarship football players are employees. Northwestern is appealing the ruling with the NLRB in Washington, which will decide whether to affirm, reverse or modify Ohr’s decision.

Northwestern University on Thursday filed a brief highlighting the crux of their argument.

The university said that Ohr “overlooked or ignored key evidence” the school presented showing that the its relationship with student athletes is “primarily educational, not economic.”

“We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we strongly believe that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address these concerns.”

The NCAA filed a brief supporting Northwestern’s stance, claiming “While there are certainly improvements to be made to the college model of sports, transforming the relationship between students and their university to an employment relationship is not the answer.”

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