The long-awaited Labor Board election in which scholarship football players at Northwestern University will decide on union representation is scheduled for tomorrow. If some published reports are accurate, a majority of those players who vote will vote “no” – against union representation. However, because of the pendency of Northwestern’s appeal of the Regional Director’s March 26, 2014 decision that the players are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, the actual “count” likely will not be known tomorrow. Instead, the ballots will be impounded until the NLRB decides the appeal. That could take several months or more.
An election victory by Northwestern will not extinguish the spotlight that CAPA’s petition shone on the applicability of the NLRA to college athletes. Since it is likely the NLRB will issue a decision upholding the Regional Director’s determination that the players are employees, even if Northwestern ultimately prevails in the election, it and other private institutions will be required forevermore to interact with their scholarship athletes as they would any other employee under the NLRA. This will mean that the players’ exercise of any of the protections afforded traditional employees contained in the NLRA – for example, to discuss and engage in union activity or to combine to improve “working conditions” – must not result in any disadvantage to the players. Similarly, any documentation applicable to the players must not leave any impression (expressly or impliedly) that engaging in any of these activities could disadvantage the athlete.
The election is scheduled to take place from 6:00 to 7:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. to noon on the Northwestern University campus. We will keep you updated.