The NLRB Chooses Not to Play

By Bill Wright

The NLRB has ruled on the representation petition for Northwestern University student football players. You’ll remember, last year, the NLRB’s Regional Director decided that student athletes who received grant-in-aid athletic scholarships at Northwestern University were actually employees of the university and that they could petition for union representation. The issue went up to the NLRB and now the NLRB has . . . decided not to play. The Board avoided the question of whether student athletes might or might not be employees. Instead, the Board announced that it would not further the goal of labor stability to exercise its jurisdiction in this case, at this time. It doesn’t have jurisdiction over teams in state-run schools and the NCAA itself exercises a lot of control over participating teams. So, the Board declines to exercise its jurisdiction. There will be no official bargaining between the University and its footballers, and, moreover, the Board avoids years of litigation, followed by, most likely, a stinging rebuke by the courts. Northwestern University and College Athletes Players Association, 362 NLRB No. 167 (August 17, 2015).