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Hearings Begin As Labor Panel Weighs Northwestern Players’ Bid For Union

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The National Labor Relations Board has set aside three days next week for testimony on whether Northwestern University football players can form a union and have protections as employees of the school.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports attorneys for the players and the university presented opening arguments Wednesday morning before the NLRB, which laid out the guidelines for testimony on the players’ attempt to unionize. Testimony will begin Tuesday.

Attorney John Adam, who represents the players in their push to form a union, said because universities pay for scholarships for athletes, they essentially make those playes employees.

“Right now our petition is for Division I athletes receiving scholarships, because scholarships are in essence compensation. They’re payment for services, and that helps us establish that they are employees,” he said.

Adam noted the football players spend at least 40 hours a week playing and practicing.

“They are dedicated athletes performing services for the university that bring in huge amounts of revenue; billions of dollars in revenue, and they are being told, ‘No, you’re not an employee, you’re a student-athlete.’ That is a myth. We intend to demolish that myth,’” he said.

But Northwestern spokesman Bob Rowley insisted college players’ scholarships are intended to help pay for education only, and that doesn’t make them employees.

“Players who have brought this petition are, in fact, students first and foremost. They’re not employees, and that’s what we are arguing in the hearings, and will be arguing in the hearings next week,” he said.

Outgoing senior Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who has led the unionization effort, said the goal is not about getting the players cash beyond scholarships to pay for school and living expenses. He said college players should be able to get health care coverage for sports-related medical expenses, including after their playing careers.

Attorneys for the players also have said they are seeking better concussion prevention measures, compensation for commercial sponsorships, due process rights that ensure players are not punished simply for alleged rules violations, an educational trust fund to help former players complete their degree after they’re done playing, and guarantees that scholarships also cover living expenses.
“The goal is to get the players a voice,” Colter said. “We don’t have a voice. It’s a dictatorship where everything is put on us without our input, without a negotiation right now we just want a seat at the table.”

If the NLRB allows Northwestern players to form a union, it would be the first time in college sports that players would be legally viewed as employees.

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