Northwestern University football players to vote on Friday on unionization
Northwestern DE Ifeadi Odenigbo [Facebook]

By Amanda Becker

(Reuters) - Football players at Northwestern University on Friday are to become the first U.S. student athletes to vote on whether to join a union.

Those players on scholarship at the Evanston, Illinois, school are deciding whether they want the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) to negotiate with Northwestern on their behalf.

CAPA was founded by Kain Colter, a senior and quarterback at the Chicago-area university, along with Ramogi Huma, a former University of California-Los Angeles football player who advocates for student athletes.

Colter and Huma have said improved safety protections, scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance and ongoing medical coverage after graduation for sports-related injuries would be among CAPA's priorities.

Northwestern said in a statement on Wednesday that the football players would cast votes between 6 and 7:30 a.m. CDT and 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. CDT on Friday. School officials declined to comment further until the election is over.

Northwestern has asked the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, which is overseeing the election, to review and overturn a decision made by one of the NLRB's regional directors that football players are de facto school employees and can therefore pursue union representation.

NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr noted in his decision that the football players each receive scholarship assistance worth about $61,000 per year, and in exchange spend 40 to 50 hours a week during the regular season practicing, playing and traveling to games.

If the five-member NLRB board in Washington, D.C., agrees to review Ohr's decision, the players' ballots will be impounded and not counted until the review is complete, Northwestern noted in its advisory.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Wednesday said the Northwestern players will "make history" on Friday.

"They will be the first group of collegiate athletes —athletes who are the key to the $6 billion-a-year big-time college sports industry — to vote on joining a union," Trumka said in a statement.

The AFL-CIO is the largest U.S. labor federation, with more than 50 member unions representing 12.5 million workers.

Colter said earlier this month that he is "very confident" that Northwestern's football team would vote to join CAPA.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Howard Goller and Dan Grebler)

[Image: Defensive End Ifeadi Odenigbo, via Northwestern Wildcats official Facebook page]