Unions, College Athletes and You

Unions have been in the news a lot, particularly the Northwestern University players’ union. If you are like most of our readers at Talent Management magazine, you might think unions have nothing to do with you. Think again. Unless you supervise other people, work for the government or fit into one of a handful of exceptions, you and your work buddies can engage in concerted activity (think walking off the job) while protected by labor laws. If you are a supervisor, nothing is stopping your direct reports from joining the Teamsters during the next performance review cycle (have fun with that). So, as an educational service, Performance at Work is providing a crash course in labor law with this peek ahead at what is going to happen in the Northwestern case. Amaze your less-well-informed friends when you look back and say, “I TOLD you so!”

July 14, 2014 (Washington, D.C.). — The five-member National Labor Relations Board announced today it had affirmed the decision of NLRB Region 13 that scholarship football players at Northwestern University are “employees” as defined by Sec. 2(3) of the NLRA and thus constituted an appropriate unit for collective bargaining. It ordered that an immediate election be held among all eligible members of the unit, pending any appeals.

July 18, 2014 (Chicago). — Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro, under pressure from the unionized Northwestern faculty senate, announced it would not contest the ruling of the board that its football players could form a union, and also that it is immediately recognizing the union based on the evidence that a majority of the players have signed authorization cards. “It is in the interests of our community that we put this behind us, so I have instructed our coaches to commence bargaining in good faith with the union in the hopes we can focus on football once the season kicks off. Go Wildcats.”

Aug. 1, 2014 (South Bend, Ind.) — The faculty and administration of Notre Dame University issued a joint declaration today announcing it was following Northwestern’s lead and recognizing the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters as the lawful collective bargaining representative of its scholarship football players. This action came on the heels of a petition signed by 52 percent of the players demanding a union. The football coaching staff would not comment.

Aug. 3, 2014 (South Bend, Ind.) — A Notre Dame football coach said today that the Fighting Irish would have the “best walk-on football program in the country,” revealing that more than 20 top small college players had transferred to Notre Dame and enrolled in classes. He also told a reporter about the formation of a freshman, non-scholarship football team made up of former high school athletes. Labor experts noted that under the NLRB’s ruling, only scholarship players can join a union.

Aug. 27, 2014 (Evanston, Ill.) — Northwestern University and the United Steelworkers announced today it had agreed upon a four-year contract governing terms and conditions of employment for the 85 players currently on football scholarship at NU. Although the full terms have not been released, informed persons report that among its provisions the contract limits the number of off-season workouts, creates a grievance and arbitration procedure governing disciplinary action and allows each player to take one game off as a vacation day with proper notice to the coaching staff.

Aug. 30, 2014 (Evanston, Ill.) — The visiting Golden Bears from the University of California defeated the favored Northwestern Wildcats 23-21 today, when NU place kicker Red Grange IV refused to attempt a game-winning field goal in the waning seconds of the contest. When asked for a comment, Grange declined and suggested reporters discuss the matter with his union representative. Sources claim his refusal involves an unresolved dispute over a grievance.

Sept. 10, 2014 (South Bend, Ind.) — No progress has been reported in labor negotiations between the Teamsters representing Notre Dame football players and the university. The sides are said to be far apart on a range of issues, including attendance at class during the football season and training table food quality.

Nov. 8, 2014 (Tempe, Ariz.) — After losing to the Arizona State Sun Devils 24-3 to drop to a disappointing 1-9 on the season, Notre Dame football coaches announced they would no longer allow any member of the team to leave his dorm room for the remainder of the football season except for practice, study hall, meals and classes. The union broke off contract negotiations and announced an immediate strike, calling for picketing of the football building.

Nov. 9, 2014 (South Bend, Ind.) — Notre Dame football coaches announced today that striking members of the football team would be permanently replaced by members of the freshman team, walk-ons and any scholarship player willing to cross the union picket line.

Nov. 15, 2014 (South Bend, Ind.) — In what is being called one of the greatest upsets in college football history, a ragged mix of strikebreaking players, walk-ons and freshmen defeated heavily favored Northwestern University today in a spirited gridiron display, 17-14. Northwestern insiders complained that disputes among the team over union dues had distracted the players during the week leading up to the game.

Dec. 10, 2014 (Dallas) — The newly-formed Right to Work Bowl announced today that Notre Dame, despite its poor season record, would be the host team in its inaguraul game on Jan. 1, 2015. Although the new bowl has not been sanctioned by the NCAA, it is rumored the payout to each team will be a record amount. Bowl Chairman Jerry Jones refused comment as to who was funding the game.

Before any Notre Dame or Northwestern lawyers call me — or Jerry Jones — remember this hasn’t really happened yet. Chill! It is set in the future, and is for educational — well, I guess you could call it educational — purposes only.

But get your Vegas bets down now.