Northwestern Football Players Win First Round In Union Battle

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Football players at Northwestern University have cleared the first major hurdle in their closely watched unionization effort, with an official of the National Labor Relations Board determining that the players are employees and thus eligible to vote in a union election.

Peter S. Ohr, regional director for the agency’s Chicago office, issued a ruling Wednesday saying that the players met the necessary criteria to qualify as employees under the National Labor Relations Act. The players’ case largely hinged on the argument that an athletic scholarship constitutes a form of payment in exchange for work — a point of view that Ohr evidently agreed with.

“Clearly, the Employer’s players perform valuable services for their Employer,” Ohr wrote in his decision, referring to Northwestern. “The Employer was able to utilize this economic benefit provided by the services of its football team in any manner it chose. Less quantifiable but also of great benefit to the Employer is the immeasurable positive impact to Northwestern’s reputation a winning football team may have on alumni giving and increase in number of applicants for enrollment at the University.”

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