August 28, 2015

National Labor Relations Board Dismisses Northwestern University Football Players’ Unionization Petition

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently dismissed a unionization petition filed by football players at Northwestern University. The players had previously prevailed in an April 2014 decision issued by the regional director of NLRB’s Chicago office and held a unionizing election shortly thereafter. However, the election results were impounded after the university appealed to the full board.

In dismissing the petition, the board did not directly address the regional director’s decision or rule on the issue of whether the players were employees for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which would allow them to unionize. Instead, the board declined to exercise its jurisdiction to hear the matter, stating that asserting jurisdiction would not effectuate the NLRA’s purposes. It noted that asserting jurisdiction in a case involving scholarship football players would be unprecedented by the board. The board also observed that, because most scholarship football players compete for public institutions (which are not under NLRB’s jurisdiction), asserting jurisdiction would not promote stability in labor relations.

NLRB added that its decision was limited only to the specific petition filed by the Northwestern players and that it does not address what the board’s approach might be to a petition involving a broader class of college athletes. (has link to actual decision, which is in a pdf)