A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern University athletes are employees of the school and are allowed to form a union.
The Associated Press calls the decision "stunning" because it has the potential to completely upend the way college athletics function. The AP adds:
"The Evanston, Ill-based university argued college athletes, as students, don't fit in the same category as factory workers, truck drivers and other unionized workers. The school plans to appeal to labor authorities in Washington, D.C.
"Outgoing Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter took a leading role in establishing the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, which would take the lead in organizing the players. The United Steelworkers union has been footing the legal bills."
In a statement, the university said it disagreed with the decision.
"Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students," Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for university relations, said in a statement. "Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes."
The university argued that students — who are compensated with "grant-in-aid scholarships" — were different from other unionized employees like autoworkers or train conductors, who are paid wages.
ESPN adds a bit more detail on NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr's opinion:
"Ohr wrote in his ruling that the players 'fall squarely within the [National Labor Relations] Act's broad definition of 'employee' when one considers the common law definition of 'employee.'
"Ohr ruled that the players can hold a vote on whether they want to be represented by the College Athletes Players Association, which brought the case to the NLRB along with former Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter and the United Steelworkers Union."
The ruling from the federal agency puts in motion a secret-ballot election to determine whether football players should be part of the union, which could in turn engage in collective bargaining with the university.
Colter said on Twitter: "This is a HUGE win for ALL college athletes!"
Update at 6:02 p.m. ET. The Reasons For Unionizing:
NPR's David Schaper tells All Things Considered the athletes brought suit against the university to have a voice at the table. They argued that they received very little compensation, while the university and other employees raked in money. Another reason for the suit was health care. David explains that athletes receive health insurance for the time they are in school, but they no longer receive health care once they're gone.