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College Football Players deemed “Employees” under NLRA

In early March, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) conducted hearings regarding Northwestern University’s Football Players bid to form a union.

The prevailing issue that arose in the players’ request to form a union is whether college athletes are considered “employees” within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).

The University argued that the players are students and not employees. Similarly, in Boston Med. Ctr. Corp, 330 N.L.R.B 152 (1999), it was held that medical school residents are not considered “employees” under the NLRA even though they received cash benefits. Additionally, in Brown University, 342 N.L.R.B. 483 (2004), it was held that graduate assistants were not “employees” under the NLRA because they were “primarily students and had a primarily educational, not economic relationship with the university.”

However, and perhaps surprisingly, the Board held that indeed the players are considered “employees,” and should have a right to form a union. The Board reasoned that because these players are paid in the form of scholarships, work between 20-50 hours per week and generate millions for their institutions, there is enough evidence to classify them as “employees.”

The athletes contend that by unionizing, they will seek better medical coverage, the possibility of being paid, scholarships and more frequent concussion testing. Based on this ruling, pay for play cannot be far behind. For more information about Employment Law in NY contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C.


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