Story Summary

NLRB: Northwestern University football players can unionize


The National Labor Relations Board in Chicago has ruled that football players at Northwestern University are employees and can unionize, the school said Wednesday.

The ruling has not yet been posted to the National Labor Relations Board website, but in a statement, Northwestern acknowledged the ruling and says it plans to appeal.

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 6 updates

Northwestern football players will vote later this month on whether to unionize and Saturday their coach spoke out on the matter for the first time publicly, saying he has urged them to vote no.

Pat Fitzgerald says he spoke with the players earlier in the week and told them it’s in their best interests to vote no on unionization. Fitzgerald says he has always been an advocate for players and works for their best interests in his role as a teacher, coach and father-figure.
Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is leading the effort to unionize players.

The vote is scheduled for april 25th.

They need a 50.1 percent vote in favor of a union to begin collective bargaining.

Northwestern University football players are a step closer to being able to unionize.

The regional National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday that the players are school employees, and should therefore be allowed to vote on whether to form a union.

Kain Colter, former Wildcats’ quarterback, tweeted his excitement when the ruling was handed down Wednesday afternoon. Colter helped lead 85 teammates in their fight to organize.

Colter and his teammates were represented by the College Athletes Players Association, who said that players should be able to collectively bargain for things like money for sports-related medical expenses after their playing days, concussion experts and an education trust fund. They said they would not bargain for pay, which would of course violate NCAA rules.

The university, which plants to appeal the ruling, argued that the players are students first an athlete second, and the ruling could violate Title IX which ensures equality among women’s and mens sports.

The university also says it’ll be a matter of time before the players would ask for money. WGN Legal Analyst Terry Sullivan says the ruling’s implications are huge.

A statement released by the Northwestern University following the ruling reads, in part: “While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director’s opinion, we disagree with it. Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.”

By Naheed Rajwani and Todd Lighty, Tribune reporters

Northwestern University on Friday disputed a student’s account that the school mishandled her allegations that a professor sexually attacked her in 2012, saying it took the matter seriously, conducted a thorough investigation and swiftly disciplined the professor.

In a detailed account in response to a federal lawsuit the student filed Feb. 10, the university said it took a host of disciplinary actions against philosophy professor Peter Ludlow, including freezing his pay in the 2012-13 school year and revoking his appointment to an endowed professor position.

Ludlow, a Northwestern professor since 2008, appealed the punishment, but a six-person faculty committee unanimously upheld the discipline, according to the university’s filing.

The university’s investigation found that Ludlow drank with the underage student in Chicago in February 2012, and “engaged in unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” by rubbing her back and kissing her.

Northwestern found that the student had been drunk and woke up the next morning in Ludlow’s bed with the professor’s arms wrapped around her. But the university said its investigation was unable to substantiate the student’s more serious claim that Ludlow had groped her.

Alan Cubbage, a Northwestern spokesman, said the school wanted to “set the record straight” about how it had responded to the student’s accusations.

“The university is truly committed to the safety and well-being of all of its students and fully supports those who come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct,” Cubbage said.

The student’s lawyer, Kevin O’Connor, said Friday he had not read Northwestern’s filing and declined to comment.

Neither Ludlow nor his lawyer, Kristin Case, could be immediately reached.

When the university learned of the student’s allegations, it launched an investigation led by Joan Slavin, the director of the university’s sexual harassment prevention office. Slavin conducted a six-week investigation beginning Feb. 13, 2012. She gathered documents and interviewed the student, Ludlow and other unidentified witnesses.

Slavin in April 2012 sent a 21-page report of her findings and recommendations to university administrators and emailed a summary to the student, according to court records.

The university concluded that Ludlow’s conduct violated its sexual harassment policy and disciplined him.

Besides freezing his pay for one year and revoking the endowed position, court records show the university told Ludlow to avoid one-on-one social contact with undergraduates, directed him not to have romantic relationships with “any Northwestern student in the future,” told him not to give alcohol to underage students and required him to complete an individualized “sensitivity/harassment-prevention training” program.

The student filed her suit using her name, but the Tribune does not typically identify victims in cases such as this one, in which the student alleged that Ludlow got her drunk and sexually attacked her.

The student, who was a freshman and underage at the time, tried to kill herself after the alleged attack, according to her suit. The lawsuit also alleges that university officials refused to share information about any disciplinary action against Ludlow.

The university, in its filing, disputed the student’s claim that it did not share disciplinary information. The university said it told the student’s lawyers of measures taken against Ludlow, although the school’s filing is unclear exactly what was conveyed to her lawyers.

Twitter @naheedrajwani

Twitter @tlighty

The first of three hearings kicks off Tuesday before the National Labor Relations Board and the stakes are high.

Sports analysts say never before have student athletes been so vocal in standing up for themselves.

The results could have national implications for college athletes – especially football players.

Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter is leading the fight against his own school.

He and other players are making the argument to the National Labor Relations Board that players should be considered employees.

If the players are allowed to unionize, they could be in position to bargain for benefits they’ve never had before including continued medical coverage after graduation, more concussion testing and of course a chunk of the billions of dollars in profits generated by college sports.

At least six players are expected to testify today.

They’re being assisted by the National College Players Association.

The battle is being closely watched by other NCAA schools.

But even if the athletes at Northwestern are successful it could take years before any changes are implemented.

That means it’s highly unlikely the players who are making the argument will see any benefits themselves they are fighting for.

A group of Northwestern University football players are appearing before the National Labor Relations Board today to explain why they want to unionize.

Some scholarship student athletes at Northwestern say they are no different than professional athletes.  Because of their efforts, they say, they bring in millions of dollars to the university, yet have no say in their working conditions.

But the university says the scholarships are incentives to help the students go to college and further their education.  The university says the players are first and foremost students, and they are not employees.

Now the whole matter is before the NLRB which will determine whether or not the students will be able to unionize.

85 members of the football team have signed cards indicating that they are hoping to form a union.  But school officials oppose the action, saying that the players are students, not employees, and therefore are not eligible to unionize.

“You can be an employee of the university and be a student,” said John Adam, an attorney with the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA).  “When the football program takes extensive time from these athletes, that’s what they’re devoted to.  And the fact that they are also students does not mean they’re not entitled to the protections of labor law.”

“The health consequences of football is a national issue,” said Bob Rowley, Northwestern University Director of Media Relations.  “We believe they should have a say in it.  We just don’t believe that the proper way is through a labor negotiation.  We think they’re students.”

Both sides are in front of the NLRB today, making their cases for and against union representation.

The outcome could be monumental, opening the floodgates and drawing in schools everywhere.

Next week both sides will be back in front of a hearing examiner.  For three days they will have a chance to argue their positions.

A decision is not expected for weeks, possiibly months thereafter.

College sports history is being made here in Chicago.

Current and former members of Northwestern University’s football team are taking steps to form a union.

The head of the National College Players Association has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the players to certify the proposed Collegiate Athletic Players Association.

Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is leading the fight.

Kain says the players’ main concern is health and safety.  He says the NCAA is a dictatorship this hasn’t taken responsibility to protect athletes from potentially lethal injuries.

Kain and other players say they deserve a seat at the table with the NCAA to work on issues such as concussions and medical expenses.

The NCAA has not commented on the petition filing.