NU football players can unionize, NLRB says

March 26, 2014 (EVANSTON, Ill.)

The National Labor Relations Board determined Wednesday that Northwestern University football players who receive grant-in-aid scholarships are employees of the school. The ruling could pave the way for NU players to become the first college athletes' union.

Union lawyers argued the Big Ten school's football players help generate heft profits for the school through their labor. Northwestern, NCAA, and Big Ten Conference opposed the argument, and NU argued that college students can't be put in the same category as factory workers.

"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," Northwestern said through a statement.

The school argued that participating in a sport is part of the overall experience of being a student, not a separate activity.

Northwestern plans to appeal the ruling with the agency's Washington headquarters.

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