Football players from Northwestern applied Tuesday to be officially recognized as a labor union.
Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, filed paperwork in Chicago at the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If approved, it would be the first time in the history of college sports that collegiate athletes are recognized as a union entity.
The United Steelworkers union, the largest industrial union in North America and North America’s largest private sector union, is backing the movement.
"This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table," Huma, a former UCLA linebacker, told ESPN’s Outside the Lines. "Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections."
The group, which is led by quarterback Kain Colter, is seeking scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance, better concussion and medical protection, multiyear scholarships that are guaranteed even if a player is no longer able to compete and a trust fund that would help players finish their educations and even reward players for finishing school.
“A lot of people will think this is all about money; it’s not,” Colter told the Chicago Tribune. “We’re asking for a seat at the table to get our voice heard.”
Another, unnamed Northwestern player, posted to a thread on Reddit explaining the goal of the potential union.
The union, if approved by the NLRB, would be called the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) and founded by Huma, Colter and Luke Bonner, a former U-Mass basketball player and brother of NBA player Matt Bonner. It would receive technical support from the United Steelworkers, but the United Steelworkers will not seek union dues from the players.
In order for the NLRB to consider the petition, at least 30 percent of Northwestern players would need to sign union cards. Huma declined to say how many players had signed union cards noting that it was an “overwhelming majority.” Huma submitted those cards along with his petition Tuesday morning.
While the CAPA in its current form only represents Northwestern football players, it could be extended to Division I football and basketball players across the country. The group is currently limiting membership to that classification because they have the best case for being treated as employees because of the revenue they generate for their universities and the NCAA. Huma said over time the union could include other sports.
During a game on Sept. 21, Colter wore a black wristband with the hashtag "#APU" - All Players United - scrawled across it in white marker. The gesture was intended to be a silent protest regarding medical treatment. Players from Georgia and Georgia Tech also participated in the silent protest.
While unionizing might be a solution for some student-athletes, others, especially those at public universities, would be classified as state workers and thus subjected to the different collective bargaining agreements of each state.
But perhaps, this movement will strike a chord with congress and force it to act in the defense of the student athlete and create comprehensive NCAA reform that would allow for better medical and scholarship protections. That’s the only way to guarantee a uniform set of provisions for each NCAA school and not allow each school to set its own rules depending on its state.
The CAPA is scheduled to have a press conference Tuesday afternoon. While this is not something that will be decided overnight, it’s definitely a movement that will prompt some sort of reaction from the NCAA and should start a meaningful discussion about the rights of collegiate athletes.
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