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Should Northwestern football players unionize? Congress to weigh in

By Sara Ganim, CNN
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Sat May 3, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The House Education and Workforce Committee will hold hearings on Thursday
  • National Labor Relations Board decided to categorize team's football players as employees
  • The move would allow the Northwestern team to unionize
  • Republican John Kline: "The NLRB's decision represents a radical departure"

(CNN) -- The Northwestern football union case is going to Capitol Hill next week.

Minnesota Republican John Kline, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said in a news release that the committee will hold hearings Thursday on the National Labor Relations Board's recent decision to categorize football players at Northwestern University as employees who can unionize and seek benefits.

Kline questioned the decision.

"The NLRB's decision represents a radical departure from longstanding federal labor policies," Kline said. "Classifying student athletes as employees threatens to fundamentally alter college sports, as well as reduce education access and opportunity. The committee has a responsibility to thoroughly examine how the NLRB's decision will affect students and their ability to receive a quality education."

Kline isn't alone in his skepticism. The ruling has been divisive within the world of college sport and in politics. Several state-level politicians have proposed legislation because of the ruling.

The communications director for the committee, Alexandra Haynes Sollberger, told CNN that a witness list for the hearing has not yet been released.

Team holds union vote, but result is cliffhanger

When contacted Friday afternoon, Ramogi Huma, a leading force behind the union and the president of the National College Players Association, said he had just learned of the hearing and didn't have any details.

In February, the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago ruled that Northwestern's football players are considered employees of the university, since they make money for their university and are compensated with tuition. The judge ruled they often have to devote more than 40 hours a week to sport and sometimes sacrifice classwork.

Northwestern is appealing the ruling, and because of that, the athletes votes that were cast last month were not counted and won't be counted until after the appeal is decided.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald advised his team to vote against it before the ballots were cast, and some of the Northwestern players then publicly said they are against the idea.

Either way, Huma said the NLRB ruling was an unprecedented shift in the way college revenue sport athletes are viewed and will have a domino effect across the country.

Northwestern University is in Chicago.

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