Newspaper article International New York Times

Union Vote Is Generating Friction at University ; 'No One Is Ambivalent' at Northwestern as Players Weigh Options

Newspaper article International New York Times

Union Vote Is Generating Friction at University ; 'No One Is Ambivalent' at Northwestern as Players Weigh Options

Article excerpt

Students, professors and athletes at Northwestern are split on whether a union should be formed by the football team.

The imminent vote by scholarship football players at Northwestern University on whether to certify a union has students, professors and athletes in other sports choosing sides.

When a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled last month that the players were employees and therefore eligible to form a union, it sent shock waves through higher education and college athletics that hit hardest here at Northwestern, a university in the Chicago suburbs that is known more for its academics than its athletics.

"What it means for the athletic department and the greater economics of the school, I don't think anyone knows exactly," said Laura Beth Nielsen, a Northwestern professor of sociology and legal studies. "But no one is ambivalent."

The varied viewpoints were on display at a meeting on Wednesday night organized by former Northwestern football players at a civic center here. Several dozen alumni attended, most of them former football players.

The meeting was led by Kevin Brown and Alex Moyer, two Northwestern players from the 1980s who said they were concerned about pressure being put on players. Brown contended that players on the team were being called by alumni and urged to vote against the union.

"We want the facts to be the facts," said Brown, who said he did not have a stance on whether players should vote for or against the union. Brown and Moyer, among others, met with Coach Pat Fitzgerald this week to discuss the matter.

Several former players at the meeting expressed anti-union opinions, saying the issues players had were with the N.C.A.A., not Northwestern.

Several members of the current team also attended, including quarterback Trevor Siemian and center Brandon Vitabile, although none spoke during the portion open to the news media.

Former players were not the only ones with a point of view. Henry Bienen, a former president of Northwestern, has said unionization could mean the end of Division I sports at Northwestern.

The women's fencing coach, Laurie Schiller, told his team on April 9 that if the football team were unionized, it could mean the end of the team. …

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