Football players are first college athletes to vote on union

Fri Apr 25, 2014 5:58pm EDT
 
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By Michael Hirtzer and Amanda Becker

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Football players at Northwestern University on Friday became the first U.S. student athletes to cast ballots in an election to decide whether to unionize.

The vote, which has the potential to upend college sports, was supervised by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board in a university building near the football field on the Evanston, Illinois, campus.

But the outcome will likely remain unknown for months. The NLRB is impounding the ballots cast by the players, who voted before and after workouts on a sunny, windy Friday morning, with small groups of four or five players wearing their Wildcats purple practice jerseys voting.

Northwestern has requested the NLRB review whether the 76 scholarship football players who were eligible to vote have the right to unionize in the same way that private-sector U.S. employees do. The ballots will remain impounded until the federal labor agency decides that question.

The unionization drive at the Chicago-area school has caught the attention of players, fans and schools affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which oversees sports programs for more than 1,200 universities in the United States and Canada and 420,000 college athletes.

Sports generates millions of dollars each season for NCAA schools through television contracts, ticket sales and merchandising. The bonanza has led to a national debate about whether elite college athletes should be paid like employees.

'EVERYONE GETTING PAID'

Talking to reporters in the stadium parking lot on voting day, former Wildcats non-scholarship player Michael Odom said: "Everyone is getting paid except for the players - coaches get paid, the university gets paid, the guy who cuts the grass gets paid. But the guys out there sacrificing their bodies and actually making money for all these people are not getting paid."   Continued...

 
Officials from the National Labor Relations Board leave the Northwestern University campus after football players voted to determine if athletes want to form a union in Evanston, Illinois, April 25, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young