A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently ruled that football players at Northwestern University can be considered university employees and are therefore entitled to unionize. The university has appealed the decision, but the football players themselves are scheduled to vote as early as today on whether or not to join a union calling itself the College Athletes Players Association, which was itself formed in January.
While it’s too early to tell exactly what will transpire at Northwestern, it’s clear that Big Labor bosses and their NLRB allies will not easily abandon this latest crusade – at least not as easily as they backed down from their fight to forcibly unionize Volkswagen workers at the Chattanooga, Tennessee plant. The prospect of wringing union dues from college athletes (read the universities themselves) all across the country is just too tantalizing for them to resist. And make no mistake: this is hardly a grassroots effort by campus idealists. CAPA’s efforts are being underwritten by the United Steelworkers (USW), one of the biggest unions in North America. If union bosses come to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), it’s Big Labor, not the student athletes, who will emerge the winners.
Since the outcome of Northwestern’s appeal – and the players’ own vote – is still uncertain, all we can do is speculate on what the NCAA might come to look like if labor bosses gets their way. Trying to envision unionized college athletics starts to get complicated fairly quickly, especially considering the relatively-recent phenomenon of “micro-unions.” Micro-unions form when a small group of employees within a business join a union on their own, apart from the workforce as a whole. Since 2010, when the NLRB issued a decision allowing the practice in the Specialty Healthcare case, micro-unions have proliferated. Workers in the women’s shoe department at Bergdorf Goodman stores have formed one, as have cosmetics salespeople at Macy’s. This can lead to multiple unions springing up in a single workforce, and can cause friction within and between workers in the various divisions of a business.