Yesterday, the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency which regulates private sector employees and labor unions, ordered that a union election be held among the scholarship college football players at Northwestern University.  The 24-page decision chronicles the life of a Division I college football player.  Essentially, they are paid (in the form of scholarships worth over $60,000 per year) to play football.  As anyone who has played a college sport knows, the time requirements to maintain these scholarships are enormous.  During much of the year, players are expected to spend 40-50 hours per week on football-related activities.  The decision goes into great depth in analyzing the daily, weekly, and seasonal commitments required of players.

While scholarships at Northwestern are four-year arrangements, other NCAA schools are permitted to offer one-year scholarships renewable at the college’s discretion.  But the fundamental point is that the scholarship is a quid pro quo for abiding by the rules and continuing to play football:

But the fact remains that the Head Coach of the football team, in consultation with the athletic department, can immediately reduce or cancel the players’ scholarship for a variety of reasons. Indeed, the scholarship is clearly tied to the player’s performance of athletic services as evidenced by the fact that scholarships can be immediately canceled if the player voluntarily withdraws from the team or abuses team rules. Although only two players have had the misfortune of losing their scholarships during the past five years, the threat nevertheless hangs over the entire team and provides a powerful incentive for them to attend practices and games, as well as abide by all the rules they are subject to.

Decision at 15.

It is this fundamental fee for service relationship that caused the Board to define the scholarship players as “employees,” and therefore subject to the federal labor laws.

Technically, the decision applies only to athletes receiving scholarships to play football at Northwestern.  “Walk-ons,” those without scholarships, are ineligible to be part of the bargaining unit (the group the union represents), since they receive no scholarships and hence no compensation to justify being classified as employees.  By extension, it would seem to apply to any other Division I college football program, as well as other similar programs, such as college basketball.  For public universities, which comprise the bulk of Division I schools, unionization rights would depend on the law of the jurisdiction where that school is located.  If, for instance, U. Mass. basketball players operated under a regimen similar to Northwestern’s, I see no reason why they could not petition the Commonwealth Department of Labor Relations for union recognition.

What will happen with this ruling depends on the extent that Northwestern wants to contest it.  As the decision of the Board’s Chicago region, it can be appealed to the 5-member NLRB in Washington, which, currently staffed with Obama appointees, would seem much more receptive than previous Boards.  If affirmed in Washington, the university could only appeal by refusing to bargain with the union (the “College Athletes Players Association”), thereby generating a “technical refusal to bargain,” which would eventually reach a federal appeals court, a less union-friendly environment than the current NLRB.

While the decision obviously does little for the millions of unrepresented workers toiling without bands or cheerleaders in far less glamorous jobs, perhaps it sends a fundamental message that too many people have either forgotten or never known:  If you want to improve your job, get a union.

Alan Shapiro, Esq.

Sandulli Grace, P.C.

Salem City Council Stands For Public Safety

Based on the diligence of MASS C.O.P. locals in Salem, the Salem City Council took a stand for public safety this week.  Recently, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll proposed to the City Council that the Police Chief and Fire Chief positions be removed from Civil Service.  This proposal was timed closely with the decision by Police Chief Paul F. Tucker to vacate his position.  Realizing the damage to autonomous public safety operations that could be wrought by this unnecessary and ill conceived change, the Salem Police Patrolmen’s Association, MASS C.O.P. Local 426 and the Salem Superior Officers’ Association, MASS C.O.P. Local 425 joined with their brothers and sisters in Fire to fight against the Mayor’s proposal.   Recognizing good sense, the City Council voted 10 to 0 to send the matter to a full City Council meeting with a negative recommendation.
Congratulations to MASSC.O.P. Local 426 and MASS C.O.P. Local 425, and, respectively, President Rob Phelan and President James Walker for working so diligently together.  When locals in the Massachusetts Coalition of Police work together to agitate and organize – good things follow!   

Waltham News Program Highlights Recent MCOP Win

The television news program Waltham Newswatch last night reported on the Waltham Police Union, Massachusetts Coalition of Police’s recent superior court victory upholding an arbitration award in favor of Officer Paul Tracey. The program recounted the events that led to the Waltham Police Department suspending Officer Tracey based on the allegations of a wholly unbelievable “victim,” from the start of the investigation through to the Union’s victory at arbitration and then in superior court (following the City’s inexplicable appeal of a “final and binding” decision).

Sandulli Grace attorney Bryan Decker successfully litigated the case with assistance from Attorney Ken Anderson, of Byrne & Drechsler, L.L.P. You can watch the story here:

Read the full decision of the appeal HERE

Read the original arbitration decision HERE

Superior Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision Overturning Suspension of Police Officer

In a case brought by the Waltham Police Union, Local 161, Massachusetts Coalition of Police, and argued by Sandulli Grace Attorney Bryan Decker, Middlesex Superior Court judge S. Jane Haggerty has upheld the decision of an arbitrator overturning the suspension of a Waltham Police Officer. (Read the full decision HERE). In a November 2012 decision Arbitrator Michael Stutz converted Waltham Police Officer Paul Tracey’s 15 day suspension to a written reprimand, and ordered the Waltham Police Department to pay Officer Tracey for lost detail and overtime opportunities (based on earnings from the prior year). Officer Tracey was placed on administrative leave while the City investigated the allegation that he had assisted a Mayoral Candidate and City Council President in intimidating one of the politician’s tenants. The allegation was advanced by a witness who was not even believed by the City’s hired hearing officer. As a result, the Arbitrator concluded that Officer Tracey had not committed misconduct, overturned the suspension and also ordered that Officer Tracey should be compensated for having been inappropriately kept on administrative leave.

Rather than comply with the contractually “final and binding” decision of the arbitrator, the City instead appealed the decision to superior court.  Following briefing and a hearing, Judge Haggerty rejected this attempt, and ordered the Award upheld.  Judge Haggerty’s decision is an exemplification of the deference that courts are to pay to the decisions of arbitrators.  Judge Haggerty first points out that “the court is confined to accept the factual findings of the Arbitrator.”  Given that the Arbitrator had found that Officer Tracey did not violate the complainant’s rights, the Judge rejected the City’s claims that the decision violated public policy:


Here, the Arbitrator found that Tracy did not engage in any type of conduct that could potentially corrode the public trust, as he did not find Gonzalez’s complaint against Tracy credible.  Given that the court must accept this factual finding, the Arbitrator’s award did not require the Chief or the City to break the law.


The City also complained that the Arbitrator had infringed on the Waltham Police Chief’s “inherent authority” when he ordered that Officer Tracey be compensated for having been improperly kept on administrative leave.  Again, the Judge rejected the claim, finding that the arbitrator’s decision was proper:


Here, the Arbitrator’s decision did not infringe on the Chief’s authority.  The Arbitrator never ordered the Chief to remove Tracey from administrative leave…  The Arbitrator found that Tracy did not commit any serious misconduct.  Thus, the Arbitrator used the overtime pay award to sanction the Chief for extending the administrative leave after September 1, 2011 because the Arbitrator found that this extension was without any basis.


In this case, the City of Waltham spent almost a year investigating the claims of a patently unbelievable “victim” in an effort to discredit a long serving police office.  The City then imposed a lengthy suspension, which was properly overturned by a respected Arbitrator.  Rather than accept this factually based decision, the City then appealed, citing a myriad of far-fetched claims in an “everything and the kitchen sink” attempt to overturn the decision.  Fortunately, Superior Court Judge Haggerty faithfully applied the proper standard in reviewing the award.  She considered each and every argument advanced by the City, and she then concluded:


The award is logically based on the facts as found by the Arbitrator.  Given the broad discretion afforded arbitrators, there is simply no basis for this court to vacate the Arbitrator’s award.