In the much publicized case involving Northwestern University football players, the NLRB regional director in Chicago ruled that college players that receive football scholarships to private colleges qualify as employees under the Labor Act because they receive compensation and are subject to the employer's control. Northwestern University, Case 13-RC-121359, 198 LRRM 1837 (3/26/14). The NLRB regional director discussed the time spent on college football, finding that players devote 50-60 hours per week on football-related activities during training camp and 40-50 hours per week during a season. He further found that the players are "under strict and exacting control by their employer throughout the entire year," and that they are essentially paid for their work by a scholarship that covers tuition, fees and room and board worth about $61,000.00 a year. While the ruling is only by an NLRB regional director, and not the NLRB itself, there is certainly a possibility the litigation could drag on for years, and that during the appeal the Board might allow an election among the Northwestern players to unionize. The players indicated they were particularly interested in more money, better protection against injury, the ability to transfer to other schools more easily, and compensation for commercial sponsorships. Other different but related issues are pending in various federal courts, including an anti-trust suit filed by Ed O'Bannon, the former basketball player at UCLA.
It is interesting to note that even the federal government does not recognize the regional director's ruling. In a recent private ruling, the Internal Revenue Service indicated that the NLRB decision does not make the players employees for tax purposes and trigger a tax bill on their athletic scholarships.
The real importance of the Northwestern ruling, as well as other developments covered in this newsletter, is that organized labor is trying to redefine the traditional employer/employee relationship to expand its potential membership.
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