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Northwestern Football Players Apply For Unionization, A Decision MSU Professors Encouraged In 2006

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EVANSTON, IL - NOVEMBER 23: Kain Colter #2 of the Northwestern Wildcats throws a pass over the arms of Tyler Hoover #91 of the Michigan State Spartans during the first half November 23, 2013 at  Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

EVANSTON, IL – NOVEMBER 23: Kain Colter #2 of the Northwestern Wildcats throws a pass over the arms of Tyler Hoover #91 of the Michigan State Spartans during the first half November 23, 2013 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

AshleyDunkak Ashley Dunkak
Ashley writes feature stories and news articles about the Lions,...
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By Ashley Dunkak
@AshleyDunkak

DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Say hello to the College Athletes Players Association.

What is it? It’s the first official union for college athletes and its initial members may come from the Big Ten Conference – players on Northwestern’s football team.

At a  news conference scheduled for 12:30 p.m., players announced they have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize and take advantage of labor rights and representation, USA Today reports.

Quarterback Kain Coulter started the movement for college players to win union rights back in September, wearing a wristband emblazoned #APU for “All Players United,” according to ESPN’s Outside the Lines. Teammates followed suit, as did other football players from other schools, including Georgia and Georgia Tech.

According to USA Today, Michigan State football players – who went on to defeat Stanford in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 – were among those who donned the black #APU wristbands this season.

For the National Labor Relations Board to consider a petition for unionization, 30 percent of an organization’s employees must submit union cards, reports USA Today, and it looks like the Northwestern football players have met and surpassed that mark, with an “overwhelming majority” supporting the petition.

Former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Human, founder of the National College Players Association, an advocacy group, told ESPN the goals of the CAPA will be the same as those of the NCPA – better medical protections (particularly against concussions), scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance, and scholarships that are guaranteed even in event of an injury that renders a student unable to compete.

The CAPA also wants a trust fund so players can finish school if they have not done so by the time their athletic eligibility expires.

While salaries for athletes is not something the CAPA is currently listing as a demand, the safe bet says it could be eventually, putting the $5.15 billion in revenue of the athletic departments of the five power conferences up for grabs, reports ESPN.

Michigan State law professors Robert and Amy McCormick authored a paper in 2006 arguing that student-athletes are in fact employees of universities and thus eligible to form a union and use the resulting bargaining power. The paper is 89 pages long, but the abstract succinctly outlines the conclusion of the law professors.

“Grant-in-aid athletes in revenue-generating sports at Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) institutions are not “student-athletes” as the NCAA asserts, but are, instead, “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). To be an employee under that Act, these athletes must meet both the common law test and a statutory test applicable to university students. In applying the common law test to athletes, we describe their daily lives through interviews with current and former Division I grant-in-aid athletes. These interviews demonstrate that their daily burdens and obligations not only meet the legal standard of employee, but far exceed the burdens and obligations of most university employees.

In addressing the statutory definition of the term employee, we demonstrate that the relationship between these athletes and their universities is not primarily academic, but is, instead, undeniably commercial. As employees under the NLRA, these athletes are entitled “to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.

Consequently, they will be able to acquire bargaining power through collective association and to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment, including wages not arbitrarily limited to the level of athletic scholarships.”

The potential union has already garnered the support of the NFL Player’s Association, whose spokesman George Atallah tweeted twice in support of the movement to get union rights for college athletes.

ESPN noted that while employees of a private university fall under the NLRA, employees of a public university do not, with those employees governed by state laws. If Northwestern players receive union rights, the decision would also apply to other players at private universities.

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