Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian said Wednesday it was wrong for former quarterback Kain Colter and other players to explore unionization without first taking their concerns to their coach and administrators.
The school’s football players are scheduled to vote later this month on whether to form a union to possibly bargain over better compensation, health insurance and work conditions. Siemian, a quarterback who will be a senior this fall, said during a conference call with reporters that players should have taken their concerns to coach Pat Fitzgerald and athletic director James Phillips before setting out to unionize.
"I’m treated far better than I deserve here," Siemian said. "Introducing a third party or somebody else, especially when our main goals when this began … there were issues with the NCAA that we thought we could address, and (unionizing) was one of the ways to do it. Nothing had been exhausted from within the school. Myself included, nobody ever addressed Fitz or Dr. Phillips about these issues.
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"Two of these guys that all of us have come here and trusted so much — I’ve known coach Fitz five or six years now — to say I don’t trust you enough to help us out addressing these changes isn’t the right way to go."
A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board announced on March 26 that Northwestern’s football players meet the definition of employees under federal law and are allowed to unionize. The players are set to vote by secret ballot April 25 on whether to form a union.
"I can only speak for myself," he said. "I’ll say there’s a significant number of guys on the team who feel the same as me."
Tim Waters, the political director for the United Steelworkers Union, which has provided support to efforts to unionize, did not return phone and email messages. Neither did Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, which is working with the steelworkers on the bid to form the nation’s first union for college athletes.
Fitzgerald has told his players to vote against the union. He declined to comment further Wednesday, though Northwestern filed its formal appeal with the NLRB and said it had "presented overwhelming evidence" at a hearing earlier this year that its athletes are "students first."
"Based on the testimony of a single player, the regional director described Northwestern’s football program in a way that is unrecognizable from the evidence actually presented at the hearing," the school said. "Northwestern views participation in intercollegiate athletics as part of the educational process."
The school noted that it provides four-year scholarships for athletes, not year-to-year scholarships provided by other schools, and that primary or secondary medical coverage is provided as well.
"We hope that the full NLRB will not only review this decision but will hold that Northwestern’s football scholarship athletes are not employees, and the petition seeking an election for the players to vote on union representation will be dismissed," said Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for university relations. "We applaud our players for bringing national attention to these important issues, but we strongly believe that unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address these concerns."
Siemian said he regretted not exploring other options for addressing athletes’ concerns when Colter organized a January meeting where he asked football players to sign union cards.
He said the fact the team petitioned the NLRB for a ruling "doesn’t mean that a union is right for this university or this school."
"I think that distinction needs to be made, too," he added. "Just because you’re an employee doesn’t mean that a union is the right avenue, especially in a scenario at Northwestern where … most guys on the team agree that we’ve been treated very, very well here. With that being said, I just don’t think that’s the direction we need to go in."