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What Does the Northwestern Decision Mean for Unions?

It is not often that a decision from the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) makes headlines, but the recent decision declaring Northwestern scholarship football players as “employees” of the university has done just that. While those in the sports world are theorizing about the ruling’s impact on college athletics, the decision does offer another takeaway.

In recent years, the NLRB has decided controversies, published guidance, and pursued cases that many employers and “right-to-work” advocates argue fall outside the Board’s power. The NLRB has even created extensive rights for non?union employees and dived into the social media policy realm. This expansion of power has drastically increased employer liability.

In finding for the student athletes in the Northwest decision, the NLRB regional director gave “employee” and “compensation” an expansive meaning. Historically non-union workforces, such as the health care industry, may start to see the NLRB attempting to exert its power over employers. If a college athlete can be deemed an “employee” and his scholarship “compensation,” then interns and contractors could easily be labeled as employees, too – and entitled to NLRA protection.

The Northwestern decision has revived talk about the pros and cons of labor unions. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the decision, there is no denying that it has turned the media spotlight on the protection that unions can offer and the power that the NLRB wields.

This article is intended as a summary of  federal and state law and does not constitute legal advice.

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