WHEATON - Recently, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a ruling that granted Northwestern football players the right to unionize. The decision is a bomb to the heart of college football's amateurism rules, and could lead to significant change to college athletics in general.
Northwestern University and the NCAA have strongly opposed the concept of a players' union, arguing that college football players are primarily students, not employees.
Despite the ruling, athletes face a long appeals process. And, once that’s done, they still have to deal with the challenges of building an organization out of members who by definition turn over heavily every year. Big Labor sees the key to making student-athlete unions viable is to expand membership beyond Northwestern by mounting successful organizing campaigns at other schools.
In response to my questions during a hearing of the Illinois K-12 Appropriations Committee, members of the Education Labor Relations Board stated that the unionization of private scholarship recipients would most likely lead to the unionization of the same at public institutions.
Illinois has recently been the object of other landmark legal cases involving unions. The recent Quinn v. Harris case raises a larger constitutional issue with regards to forced unionization. That case questions the forced membership into a union of parents who receive state benefits to care for their disabled children. The push for a football player union at Northwestern University is pitting players, who voluntary accept scholarships, against the very institutions that have given them an opportunity to receive an education while developing and showcasing their talent.
Over the weekend, NCAA President, Mark Emmert stated, "To be perfectly frank, the notion of using a union employee model to address the challenges that do exist in intercollegiate athletics is something that strikes most people as a grossly inappropriate solution to the problems. It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics… There's some things that need to get fixed. They're working very aggressively to do that. No one up here believes that the way you fix that is by converting student-athletes into unionized employees."
I've introduced HB 4908 to prohibit student athletes enrolled at a university on a scholarship from organizing against the very institution that has given them an opportunity in life. My bill directly addresses a very real and heated issue in Illinois. We are headed down a path that will lead to innumerable costs to student athletes of all sports. There will be tax consequences, the de-funding of less profitable sports, and most likely numerous lawsuits concerning benefits and work rules.