The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday ruled college athletes are considered employees, a decision that moves Northwestern University football players a step closer to forming the nation's first college athletes' union.
The agency was tasked with deciding whether the football players qualify as employees under U.S. law, and hearings were held in Chicago. The decision gives the players rights to unionize.
"So proud of my teammates, Ramogi, lawyers, and supporters around the nation! This is a HUGE win for ALL college athletes!" Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter tweeted after the decision.
The regional director of the NLRB directed a secret ballot election be held to determine whether the players should be represented by the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA).
Northwestern University spokesman Alan K. Cubbage called the decision disappointing.
"While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director’s opinion," Cubbage said, "we disagree with it. Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes."
Northwestern plans to appeal the decision, Cubbage said.
"Northwestern considers its students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, to be students, first and foremost," he said. "We believe that participation in athletic events is part of the overall educational experience for those students, not a separate activity."
CAPA's creation was announced in January after an "overwhelming majority" of Northwestern's team signed cards to apply for labor rights and representation by the union.
Colter co-founded CAPA and serves on its board of directors with former UCLA football player Ramogi Huma, who founded the union, and former basketball player Luke Bonner.
CAPA says the new union is necessary to "challenge the treatment of players under the current pay-for-play system for college athletes." It cites a court case in which the NCAA stated it has no legal duty to protect college athletes from injury.
The NCAA has said the move undermines the purpose of college to get an education.
"Student-athletes are not employees," the NCAA said in a statement, "and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize."