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Mum’s the word from Northwestern players on union vote

Michael Odom who left team this winter is pressed for comment by media. He said many his former teammates do

Michael Odom, who left the team this winter, is pressed for comment by the media. He said many of his former teammates do not support unionization. | AP

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Updated: May 27, 2014 6:17AM

As Northwestern football players filed in and out of McGaw Hall on Friday to vote on union representation, none would say how they voted, if they said anything at all.

Offensive lineman Kenton Playko declined to comment but stopped on the Ashland Avenue sidewalk outside of Ryan Field to take a selfie with some of the gathered media in the background. One man — presumably a football player — walked across a path from Ryan Field to Welsh-Ryan Arena and yelled to the throng, “Gotta give the people what they want!”

Of course, what a lot of people want is to know how the 76 scholarship players voted. They got the chance when Peter Sung Ohr, Chicago regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, ruled March 26 that football players were employees of the university and thus eligible for union representation.

On Thursday, the NLRB granted Northwestern a review of the decision, effectively locking the results of the optional and secret ballot away until the review is finished. There were two voting periods, from 6 to 7:30 a.m. and from 10 a.m. to noon.

At about 12:25 p.m., the ballots were whisked away by two people holding shiny metallic cases.

Kain Colter, the former NU quarterback and face of the movement, was in Evanston. The original plan called for him to observe the vote for the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). But to avoid questions about his presence, he was replaced by former kicker Jeff Budzien, along with a person from the CAPA and three from the NLRB.

Absent of any resolution, all that was left was conjecture, speculation and the usual quotes.

“I’m proud of what the Northwestern football team has accomplished,” Colter said in a statement released by the CAPA. “They are giving a voice to the voiceless and empowering current and future athletes.”

University spokesman Alan Cubbage denied allegations that Northwestern engaged in “unfair labor practices during the labor campaign,” including emailing football players’ parents to urge a vote against the union. He said the school conducted its campaign “according to the guidelines and procedures” the NLRB mandated.

“In doing so, we did indeed explain very consistently and very clearly the university’s position, which is that we believe our students are students, not employees, and that we don’t believe unionization and collective bargaining are the appropriate method,” Cubbage said.

Whether the players agree won’t be known for some time.

Sophomore Michael Odom, a former walk-on linebacker who left the team this winter, was rushed by the media as he left the athletic complex. Unlike his former teammates, who in previous comments have questioned the unionization, Odom threw his full support behind it.

He didn’t think the current Wildcats agreed.

“I don’t know. It seems like things are kind of leaning towards no,” said Odom, carrying his jersey. “A lot of them have been successfully talked out of voting yes. I think it’s unfortunate.”

Contributing: Sandra Guy

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