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Mar 26, 2014 03:58 PM EDT

Kain Colter and Northwestern Football Players Win Unionization Bid With NLRB


Kain Colter and the Northwestern University football players have won their bid in court to form a union for all college athletes.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Peter Sung Ohr, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released his ruling Wednesday afternoon. Ohr's decision is likely to be appealed to the NLRB in Washington, but if it is upheld, it will be "revolutionary for college sports," said Robert McCormick, a professor emeritus at Michigan State University College of Law.

McCormick, who specializes in sports and labor law, said the decision could eventually affect federal and state agencies on whether or not to consider college athletes employees under the Worker's Compensation Act. For example, if a player sustains an injury during an organized team activity, that player could be entitled to compensation.

Once Ohr's decision is finalized, if it remains unchanged, college athletes will be able to hold a union election.

The Northwestern players formed the first movement in the history of college sports to create a union. They filed a petition in Feb. with the NLRB's Chicago office with the aid of Ramogi Huma and the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA).

Colter, Northwestern's former quarterback, had the benefit of United Steelworkers, the union that backs CAPA and paid the legal fees, has been the face of the movement. He testified in the hearings that college athletes, especially in the NCAA's Division I, devote more than what is considered normal for a full-time workweek.

Colter and his fellow petitioners found themselves at odds with their school and head football coach Pat Fitzgerald, both of whom testified against unionization.

"While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director's opinion, we disagree with it," Northwestern said in a statement. "Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes."

Colter expressed his pleasure with the ruling on Twitter. Both he and Fitzgerald have maintained respect for one another throughout the process, despite being on opposite sides of the issue.

ESPN reported that Ohr's decision said the Northwestern players "fall squarely within the [National Labor Relations] Act's broad definition of 'employee' when one considers the common law definition of 'employee.'" He found the players' scholarships were tied to their on-field performance and team activities often took time away from studies and other school-related matters.

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