Northwestern Univ. football players take steps toward starting their own union

By Arturo Garcia
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 17:59 EDT
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Northwestern Univ. quarterback Kain Coulter [Facebook]
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Football players at Northwestern University have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking to form their own labor union, ESPN reported on Tuesday.

“The action we’re taking isn’t because of any mistreatment by Northwestern,” quarterback Kyle Colter was quoted as saying. “We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We’re interested in trying to help all players — at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It’s about protecting them and future generations to come.”

The petition asks the NLRB to certify the a new group, the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), which was created by Colter, National College Player Association (NCPA) President Ramogi Huma and former University of Massachusetts basketball player Luke Bonner. The group would be backed by United Steelworkers, with Huma serving as the charter president. Players would not be required to pay membership dues.

To qualify for unioninzation, NLRB rules [PDF] state that at least 30 percent of the “bargaining unit” — the group of employees — must sign union cards, meaning at least 26 of Northwestern’s 85 scholarship players. Huma was quoted as saying that an “overwhelming majority” of Colter’s teammates joined the petition.

Huma told ESPN that the new organization would carry on some of the reforms the NCPA has called for from the National Collegiate Athletics Association, which regulates college athletics. Among CAPA’s demands would be to require schools to honor scholarships granted to players sidelined for medical reasons, as well as the development of a trust fund for players’ educational use after their NCAA eligibility runs out.

However, the group has not made any statement regarding pay for athletes in major-revenue sports like football or mens’ basketball. A separate legal case concerning the issue of paying athletes for use of their names and likenesses in video games is scheduled to go to trial in June 2014.

The university released a statement opposing the players’ attempt to form a union, while supporting players’ right to voice their concerns regarding NCAA health policies.

“Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns,” vice president of athletics and recreation Jim Phillips was quoted as saying. “However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration.”

[Image: Kyle Colter, via Northwestern University football team Facebook fan page]

Arturo Garcia
Arturo Garcia
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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