USW: Fight for Scholarship Athletes Will Continue Despite NLRB Ruling


CONTACT: Tim Waters: 412-562-2295,

PITTSBURGH (August 17) – The United Steelworkers (USW) today reiterated its support for greater protections for scholarship athletes despite the decision of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to decline jurisdiction, for the time being, over college football players at Northwestern University.

“While we are disappointed by the NLRB decision, the USW remains as committed as ever to the idea that scholarship athletes deserve the same rights and protections afforded to other Americans,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “We will not stop fighting until athletes secure the basic protections they so desperately need.”

Eventually, Gerard said, the players will win the right to collectively bargain. “Maybe it won’t happen in 2015,” he said, “But before today’s athletes send their children to college, every college scholarship football player and every college scholarship basketball player will be a proud union member and no longer exploited on their jobs.”

The USW provided legal aid to the Northwestern players in their attempt to join the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA), the first union seeking to represent college athletes in collective bargaining. The protections the athletes have sought include guaranteed scholarships that cover the full cost of attending school, a greater emphasis on concussion treatment and better health care for student athletes during and after their playing days.

The NLRB decided that, for now, asserting jurisdiction over players at as few as 17 of 125 college teams would not serve to promote stability in labor relations in college football. But the NLRB left the door open for reconsideration of the issue. Under federal law, the NLRB would not have authority in cases where athletes attend state-run colleges and universities. In NCAA Division I Football, 108 of the 125 schools are state-run.

The NLRB effectively sidelined a March decision by Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr that the players were employees of Northwestern with the right to join a union.

“These athletes are the reason that the NCAA is a multi-billion dollar business. All they want is a seat at the table,” said USW Political Director Tim Waters. “As it stands today, too many college athletes are in danger of losing their scholarships in an instant, with no compensation and no promise of future health care should they suffer long-term injuries.”

The players’ effort to unionize has already forced colleges and conferences into making some changes and shined a national spotlight on the unjust and hazardous conditions NCAA athletes face.

“College athletes everywhere should take note. A few dozen 18- to 21-year-old Northwestern football players joined together to challenge an unjust system, and while we hoped for a different ruling from the NLRB, we’ve succeeded in starting a conversation that is already changing the culture of college athletics as we know it,” said Kain Colter, the former Northwestern quarterback who has led the unionization effort.

CAPA President Ramogi Huma, a former football player at UCLA, said the decision is disappointing because it’s likely to delay action. “It may cause a loss of time and leverage in securing what players need for their safety,” Huma said, “And any delay can have serious ramifications for players.”

“We are on the right side of history,” he added, “It’s time we replaced the NCAA’s absolute power with shared power, where every stakeholder has a seat at the table.”

The USW is the largest industrial union in North America, representing workers in a range of industries including metals, mining, rubber, paper and forestry, oil refining, health care, security, hotels, and municipal governments and agencies.


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