Northwestern University football players have started the process to be recognized by a labor union, submitting a petition with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board.
The football players made the move with the help of National College Players Association president Ramogi Huma, who filed a petition in Chicago on their behalf.
Backed by the United Steelworkers union, Huma also filed union cards signed by an undisclosed number of Northwestern players with the NLRB -- the federal statutory body that recognizes groups that seek collective bargaining rights.
"This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table," said Huma, a former UCLA linebacker who created the NCPA as an advocacy group in 2001. "Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections."
To have the NLRB consider a petition to be unionized, at least 30 percent of the members of a group serving an employer must sign union cards. Huma declined to say how many Northwestern players signed cards other than the number was an "overwhelming majority."
In a statement, NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said "student-athletes are not employees within any definition of the National Labor Relations Act" and that there is no existing employment relationships between the "NCAA, its affiliated institutions or student-athletes."
"This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education," Remy said. "Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize."
According to Huma, the move to unionize players at Northwestern started with quarterback Kain Colter, who reached out to him last spring and asked for help in giving athletes representation in their effort to improve the conditions under which they play NCAA sports.
"The action we're taking isn't because of any mistreatment by Northwestern," Colter said. "We love Northwestern. The school is just playing by the rules of their governing body, the NCAA. We're interested in trying to help all players -- at USC, Stanford, Oklahoma State, everywhere. It's about protecting them and future generations to come."
Colter added that right now, "the NCAA is like a dictatorship" and the only way things are going to change is if players have a union, just like the NBA and the NFL.
Colter also revealed that he met with Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald to share the news that the union cards had just been filed.
"It couldn't have gone any better," Colter said. "Obviously, he has employers he needs to think about. But he's understanding of what we did, that this is something we feel passionate about, and he wants to make the athletes' experience the best it can be."
In a statement, Northwestern said it supports dialogue around the issues that are important to the CAPA, and the right of Colter and his teammates to have a voice in that dialogue. However, it also said it does not support the players organizing through a labor union.
"Northwestern believes that our student-athletes are not employees and collective bargaining is therefore not the appropriate method to address these concerns," NU vice president for athletics and recreation Jim Phillips said. "However, we agree that the health and academic issues being raised by our student-athletes and others are important ones that deserve further consideration."
[ Also Check Out: College Athletes To Form Union In Unprecedented Move ]
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"Northwestern Football Team Seeks Recognition From Labor Union"