College football players at Northwestern University have lost their bid to form a union.
The National Labor Relations Board on Monday declined to rule on whether long hours in practice and on the field without pay convert high-profile college athletes into employees who can unionize.
But the board?s uncommon unanimous decision isn?t the final word for athletes who want to form unions.
The NLRB?s conclusion comes more than a year after Northwestern University football players held a historic secret-ballot vote on whether to form the nation?s first union for college athletes. It?s especially surprising because the board?s Democratic members have not shied from decisions expanding worker protections and union rights to areas previously uncovered by U.S. labor law.
While the Northwestern matter seems settled, for now, the NLRB made clear in its 16-page ruling that its decision applies very narrowly to this particular institution and circumstance, and officials said the result could be different should athletes at another college ? or group of colleges ? take up the cause.
The NLRB?s consideration of the case was as historic as the athletes? vote: It was the first involving college athletes of any kind, and the first time the board has been asked to certify a single team unit in any league sport.
In this June 9, 2015 photo, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees protest outside the in Chicago. More than 40,000 state workers’ contracts are set to expire at the end of the month, but no agreement is in sight between the various labor unions representing them and GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has made damping down the union might a focus of his first months in office. (AP Photo/Christian K. Lee)
But therein lies the reasoning for the board?s unanimous decision to decline to assert jurisdiction. Northwestern is the sole private institution in the Big Ten Conference, and one of only 17 private colleges in the 125-member Football Bowl Subdivision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. State-run institutions are outside the scope of the National Labor Relations Act.
The NCAA and its athletic conferences impose myriad rules and restrictions on all colleges, regarding everything from scholarship allocations to away-game travel time. Allowing athletes at one institution ? Northwestern in particular ? to collectively bargain on those issues could upset competitive balance, the board reasoned.
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