Northwesten says Colter’s not an employee because it compensates him so poorly

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OK, they didn’t say that.

Kain Colter, the Northwestern quarterback who is spearheading his team’s drive for union recognition, testified for four hours yesterday before the National Labor Relations Board. Colter said that there was no question he was at Northwestern primarily to play football. He argued that it was a full time job, requiring 40-50 hours of work in season, 50-60 hours during training camp, a return to campus weeks before the end of the summer. Kolter also said that he could never schedule classes before 11 am because of football requirements, which impeded his academic goals.

Illustrative of what Colter described was this:

“During the 2012 season, after Colter was named the starting quarterback, Northwestern traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., for a day game against Michigan. The Wildcats made the five-hour trip by bus, had team meetings, held walk-throughs, played the game, met reporters and then returned to campus in Evanston, Ill. According to Kolter’s “accountable hours” log to ensure he had time for academics, he spent 4 hours 8 minutes on football activities.”

Northwestern’s lawyers countered that Colter did well in school, will graduate early, was given extra tutoring help when he needed it and was advantaged from the mutually reinforcing benefits of athletics and academics. It makes no sense, therefore, for Colter to argue that he was an employee first. They also pressed an interesting line of questioning:

“When he was cross-examined by university lawyers, Colter was pressed about whether his scholarship money dedicated to tuition was taxed. And he was asked whether he received retirement and paid time-off benefits like other Northwestern employees. He said he did not.”

By some estimates, one in four American workers receives no paid days off. And the United States is the only wealthy country that doesn’t legally require such a benefit. So, there is a faulty premise in the university’s line if questioning – that employee status is determined by receiving a benefit that many American workers don’t actually receive.

But even more extraordinary is the logic by which Northwestern is essentially arguing this: the more we can deny a class of individuals on campus the basic benefits and protections that other workers receive, the better we can argue that they’re not workers at all.

While we’re at it, let’s start stripping people of their voting rights and then declaring that, because they can’t vote, they’re not citizens. Because, after all, citizens are those people who have the right to vote.

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