SBD/April 24, 2014/Colleges

Northwestern Admins, Coaches Urging Football Players To Vote Against Unionization

Northwestern Univ.’s message to its football players since an NLRB ruling opened up the door to unionization "has been consistent and clear: Vote no -- for yourselves, for the team and for the university," according to a front-page piece by Ben Strauss of the N.Y. TIMES. The team tomorrow will vote whether to unionize, and labor experts said that Northwestern's campaign has "been a textbook case of how to aggressively battle a union." NU officials -- ranging from assistant coaches to the university president -- have pulled out "all the stops to squash the union before it is formed." NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has "held one-on-one meetings with players, along with mandatory meetings for the scholarship football players." He has "written letters to the players and their parents," while position coaches "have also been in contact with players’ parents." Players have "heard warnings that the formation of a union would make it harder for them to land jobs after graduation; that Fitzgerald might leave; that alumni donations would dry up; that Northwestern’s planned $225 million athletic center could be scrapped." Former NLRB General Counsel Fred Feinstein said, "It sounds like a vigorous, strenuous anti-union campaign that employers often employ when they’re determined to defeat unionization efforts." Sources said that former NU QB Dan Persa, who played from '07-'11, has "been among the most vocal in urging the players to vote down the union." Persa has indicated that he "opposed a union because it would introduce so much uncertainty." However, he "insisted that his only goal was to make sure players were informed before they voted." Persa: "No one knows what could happen. That's scary" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/24).

MICHIGAN SCHOOLS OPPOSED: In Detroit, Matt Charboneau noted while the unionization vote at NU is "strictly for the football team, a passing likely would lead to changes to all sports." This is where "concerns lie" for Michigan AD Dave Brandon. He said, "With all the turmoil that seems to be swirling around, the one thing I’m going to fight for is the preservation of that collegiate model, that opportunity for equality, that opportunity for diversity, that opportunity for us to reach out and sponsor sports that don’t necessarily draw 110,000 people." Meanwhile, Michigan State AD Mark Hollis "made it clear he does not support the idea student-athletes are university employees, but hopes something good comes from the current situation." He said, "I come from a perspective that, along with the members of the Big Ten and other conferences, that student-athletes ought to have a lifestyle that allows them to be students and ought to have resources that allow them to be students. As we move forward, we need to ensure that that happens" (DETROIT NEWS, 4/23).
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