Northwestern Formally Appeals NLRB's Union Ruling Ahead Of Team's Vote On Issue
Northwestern Univ. yesterday "formally appealed the ruling that classified its scholarship football players as employees and cleared the way for them to form a union," claiming that NLRB Regional Dir Peter Sung Ohr "mischaracterized, slanted and ignored relevant facts" in his ruling, according to Cancino & Greenstein of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. NU said that the NLRB "failed to consider the tax implications for student-athletes receiving scholarships." If those scholarships are taxed, that burden "may prevent student-athletes from getting a Northwestern education." The school added that the NLRB "leaped to conclusions in saying that all the time student-athletes devote to football-related activities amounts to 'work' by artificially separating football from academic activities." NU noted that part of the problem is the "description of the program was based solely on testimony from former quarterback Kain Colter," the only player to take the stand. Cancino & Greenstein report the players "are set to vote April 25" on whether they want the College Athletes Players Association to represent them. The majority of scholarship players "would have to vote in favor of being represented by the union." After the election takes place, the ballots "will remain secret until the board makes a final decision on the appeal" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/10). NU alleges that Ohr "heavily discounted testimony presented during a February hearing from three other players who said academic activities were their top priority." In Chicago, Lewis Lazare noted NU "termed Ohr's decision 'unprecedented' and claimed he overlooked key evidence that Northwestern introduced during hearing last month in Chicago" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 4/9). Meanwhile, former NLRB Chair Wilma Liebman said that the "best chance to overturn the ruling would come from the precedent of a 2004 NLRB decision that found Brown University graduate students were not employees." However, a reversal "could be difficult given the board’s makeup of three Democrats and two Republicans" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/10).
NOT SO FAST, MY FRIEND: USA TODAY's Paul Myerberg notes NU QB Trevor Siemian "spoke out in opposition to a unionization effort Wednesday, saying he doesn't 'think that's the direction we need to go in.'" Siemian said, "This all began with the best intentions, for sure. I feel that way and a lot of guys on the team feel that way. But given our circumstance here, with the way we're treated ... I'm treated far better than I deserve here. I can only speak for myself, but I'll say there's a significant amount of guys on the team that feel pretty similar to me." Myerberg notes Siemian "made a distinction between Northwestern's decision to file for employee cards in late January and April's vote." He said, "Just because you're an employee doesn't necessarily mean that a union is the right avenue" (USA TODAY, 4/10). Siemian indicated that he "faults himself for not gathering more information before joining with the vast majority of teammates to sign union cards after a presentation" by Colter and CAPA President Ramogi Huma. He said that those with concerns such as improving medical care, increasing player stipends and allowing more freedom to transfer "should have taken them to Fitzgerald" and/or NU AD Jim Phillips. Siemian: "To say, 'I don’t trust you enough to address this,' I don’t think that is the way to go" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/10).