Ex-college athlete: Unionizing 'step in the right direction' - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

Ex-college athlete: Unionizing 'step in the right direction'

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LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

After being presented evidence that Northwestern's football players spend more time on the field playing and practicing than in the classroom, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Wednesday the student-athletes are, in fact, employees of the university and have the right to unionize.

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Ruben Garcia says it's correct based on current federal law.

"The facts, as I've seen them, really do point pretty significantly toward employee status," said Garcia, who specializes in labor and employment law.

Northwestern players hope to negotiate better medical care, concussion testing and the possibility of getting paid.

Other schools would have go through the same process for this to spread nationally, according to Garcia.

"Team-by-team, school-by-school, just like any work place is not organized just because one group of workers wants to get together and have a union," said Garcia. 

Northwestern's administration plans to appeal the decision.

A similar case involving graduate students trying to unionize at New York University took 13 years to settle.

"They understand there will be appeals and it will take many years, but it is a step in the right direction," said Ed O'Bannon, college basketball's player of the year in 1995. "The fact that they are standing up for themselves, I love it, I love it."

O'Bannon calls Las Vegas home and has been involved in a lawsuit for five years, suing the NCAA for using players' likenesses in video games and not getting compensation.

"The fact that there's billions of dollars being made and the athletes aren't getting anything other than the scholarship, I think is wrong," said O'Bannon. 

The former UCLA and NBA star calls his plight and the one at Northwestern a marathon, but compensation for these newly-named "employees" could be waiting at the finish line.

"It might not happen in the near future - in fact, I'm almost positive it won't happen in the near future - but we are talking about it," said O'Bannon.

The final report from the National Labor Relations Board stated players devote 40 to 50 hours to football-related activities during the season.

Since Northwestern is a private university, it must follow federal labor laws. If athletes at public universities want to file a similar case, they would first have to appeal at the state level.

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