Education

Northwestern University's Campaign to Defeat a Unionization Vote by Football Players

April 24, 2014
 

A National Labor Relations Board official took a historic step last month in ruling that Northwestern’s scholarship football players should be considered employees of the university and therefore had the right to unionize like other workers.

And then, almost immediately, Northwestern began a wide-ranging campaign to defeat a unionization vote, which is scheduled for Friday.

The president emeritus publicly said that a vote for the union could mean the end of Division I sports at Northwestern. A former quarterback visited the team to encourage players to vote no. Coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former football star who is revered on campus, has framed a vote for the union as a personal betrayal.

“Understand that by voting to have a union, you would be transferring your trust from those you know — me, your coaches and the administrators here — to what you don’t know — a third party who may or may not have the team’s best interests in mind,” Fitzgerald wrote to the team in an email.

The university’s push has not been all ominous warnings, though. Players were given new iPads when they arrived for the first day of practice after the N.L.R.B. decision, though the university said the iPads were unrelated to the union process and had been in the planning for months. That afternoon, players were taken to a bowling alley for a team party.

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