Cheerleading for professional sports is more than sporting sparkly midriff-baring tops, white cowboy boots and zipping off to calendar shoots...it's a job. And it's demanding.
Between mandatory practices, public appearances, strict image guidelines that require lots of money for upkeep and performing at the games, it's a lot of hard work.
Generally people are paid for the work they do in a formal employment relationship. But unfortunately, that's not a reality for NFL cheerleaders. Because it's a "love what you do" kind of job, many of these women are taken advantage of in the form of wage theft. And Lacy T., an Oakland Raiderette, took a very strong stand against wage theft earlier this year when she filed a lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders.
According to ESPN, the lawsuit alleged that the Raiders failed to pay their cheerleaders minimum wage for all hours worked, withheld pay until the end of the season, required cheerleaders to cover their own business expenses, don't provide lunch breaks and impose fines for minor infractions—all of which, according to the suit, constitute violations of the California Labor Code.
ESPN writer Amanda Hess makes the case that even though the NFL is hugely profitable and football players, by coming together in their union, are able to collectively bargaining for better wages, cheerleaders are still seen as expendable.
Of the 26 teams that employ cheerleaders, only Seattle publicly advertises that it pays its squad an hourly minimum wage. The tenuous position of NFL cheerleaders is exacerbated by the fact that six teams don't fork out any cash for squads.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler took notice of Lacy T.'s story and sent her a letter this week commending her courage:
I was very moved by your courage in standing up to some very powerful interests. It reminds me of the many union members we represent, especially women, who are lifting up their voices in workplaces all over the country, often against overwhelming odds. I believe your willingness to speak out will be a turning point toward a better future for other young women who want to take their skills and experience to the professional level.
In a statement, Lacy T. said:
I love being a Raiderette, but someone has to stand up for all of the women of the NFL who work so hard for the fans and the teams....I hope cheerleaders across the NFL will step forward to join me in demanding respect and fair compensation.