Lamar Alexander rails against NLRB ruling that allows college athletes to form union

Sen. Lamar Alexander was quick to express his opposition to a ruling by the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday in favor of Northwestern University football players’ effort to unionize.

Alexander is a former president of the University of Tennessee and served as secretary of education under George H.W. Bush.

His office issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“Imagine a university’s basketball players striking before a Sweet Sixteen game demanding shorter practices, bigger dorm rooms, better food, and no classes before 11 a.m. This is an absurd decision that will destroy intercollegiate athletics as we know it.”

NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr said the time commitment of meetings, practices, games, offseason training, etc., and the fact that scholarships are directly tied to performance affords the players union rights.

Northwestern said it would appeal the ruling to the full NLRB in Washington D.C.

From an ESPN.com report:

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.

… Colter, whose playing eligibility has been exhausted, said nearly all of the 85 scholarship players on the Wildcats' roster backed the union bid, though only he expressed his support publicly. The United Steelworkers union has been footing the legal bills.

CAPA attorneys argued that college football is, for all practical purposes, a commercial enterprise that relies on players' labor to generate billions of dollars in revenues. That, they contend, makes the relationship of schools to players one of employers to employees.

In its endeavor to have the players recognized as essential workers, CAPA likened scholarships to employment pay -- too little pay from its point of view. Northwestern balked at that claim, describing scholarship as grants.

Giving college athletes employee status and allowing them to unionize, critics have argued, could hurt college sports in numerous ways -- including by raising the prospects of strikes by disgruntled players or lockouts by athletic departments.