The recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board’s Chicago division that football players at Northwestern University are actually university employees has some far-reaching ramifications for athletes all over the country, including Missouri.

Given this clarification of their status, Northwestern football players now have employee rights, including the right to organize as a union and engage in collective bargaining with the university.

What this could mean to players in the future is unclear. Players who elect to go on strike for whatever reason would wind up sitting out the season. Players sitting out the season would lose their athletic scholarships. Whatever nebulous benefits to be gained from the decision to go on strike would have to be carefully weighed against the reality that a non-playing athlete has very little value to the university.

Northwestern has already announced its decision to appeal the ruling to the Washington National Labor Relations Board. According to one expert, that process alone could take half a year. Pending the decision being upheld, university athletes could then vote as to whether they choose to unionize and force the university to the bargaining table.

The case has all the earmarks of eventually wending its way to the Supreme Court. Even before it gets to that point, Congress may amend the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit student athletes from unionizing.

At present, the decision affects only Northwestern football players. But, if players from the two sports that traditionally generate the most revenue, football and men’s basketball, take up the cause, Title IX issues could arise from gender-discriminatory practices.

This case may change the way universities interact with their student athletes and could possibly have a chilling effect on sports programs at some universities.

Regardless, employees in the real world of labor and business certainly have rights that often must be upheld by the courts. If you feel that your employer engages in unfair work practices or discrimination, a Missouri employment law attorney can help you learn more about your options.

Source: Columbia Daily Tribune, “Labor board rules that Northwestern players are employees, opening the door for a possible revolution in college athletics” David Morrison, Mar. 27, 2014