Northwestern Football Players Encouraged to Just Say No to Union
Last month the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) issued a ruling stating that athletes at private universities are employees of their respective schools and have the right to unionize. Now, with Northwestern’s players scheduled to vote on unionization on April 25, Pat Fitzgerald, the school’s football coach, is urging his players to vote against the measure.
The players leading the unionization effort are hoping to secure things such as better medical coverage, four-year scholarships, and even the possibility of being paid. In Fitzgerald’s opinion, however, unionization is an unnecessary and inconvenient impediment to achieving those goals. In a recent statement Fitzgerald noted, “I believe it’s in their best interests to vote no . . . . All this can be handled with communication. It’s about trust . . . . I just do not believe we need a third party between our players and our coaches, staff and administrators . . . Whatever they need, we will get them.”
Some of Northwestern’s football players were quick to issue public statements siding with Fitzgerald. Quarterback Trevor Sieman stated, “I think at this university I’m really fortunate to be in the position I’m in. I don’t think union is the answer for my team, or my university . . . . I’ve been treated unbelievably, far exceeding my expectations.” Running back Venric Mark also appeared to be against unionizing, though he noted, “I just hope the NCAA does understand [that] some things do need to change.”
When asked to comment on the players’ deliberations, senior center Brandon Vitabile stated, “We’re all smart guys. We’re open to hearing things and discussing things.” Vitabile declined, however, to provide any indication as to which way most players were leaning for the upcoming vote.
Northwestern has already started the appeal process, and hopes to have the local NLRB unit’s decision overturned by the NLRB’s national office in Washington, DC.