Amid allegations of wage violations and poor working conditions, the NFL’s cheerleading teams may be seeking to unionize. A former Buffalo Jill (the Bills cheerleading squad) spoke about the matter to Andrea Kremer for a future episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com):
“We’re looking into possibly developing some type of union for girls going forward,” the cheerleader, Maria, said. “So we’re not doing this to benefit ourselves. We’re, you know, done with cheering. This is for the future of the team, the future of these girls.”
Florio writes that the effectiveness of a union is debatable, but the threat could be enough to change how team’s treat their cheerleaders. Since February, at least five teams have seen lawsuits come their way:
- A former Bengals cheerleader sued the team in February. The lawsuit claimed that the cheerleader received an average of $2.85 an hour (via USA Today Sport’s Sheila McLaughlin).
- Five former Jills filed a lawsuit against the Bills in April. The suit alleges that the cheerleaders were payed below minimum wage for their “extensive work on game day and at various community events” (via USA Today Sports).
- A former Buccaneers cheerleader filed a lawsuit against the team in May, claiming she received less than $2.00 an hour (via SI.com’s Josh Sanchez).
- A former Jets cheerleader sued the team in May, saying she made about $1.50 an hour following out-of-pocket expenses (via Dareh Gregorian of the New York Daily News).
- Two former Raiders cheerleaders sued the team earlier this month. They claimed that they were “subjected to poor working conditions” in addition to being paid below minimum wage (via ESPN.com). This came a few months after the U.S. Labor Department announced that a previous wage investigation was closed. The findings said that the Raiders were “a ‘seasonal’ operation exempt from federal minimum-wage laws” (via SFGate.com’s Bob Egelko).
As Florio points out, teams have continually capitalized on the competitive nature of the job. For the opportunity to be a cheerleader, the team’s presume the performers would accept less than adequate pay.
“[D]oes it make it right?” a former Raiderette, Lacy, said to Kremer. “Tons of people would love to be a reporter. Does that mean you don’t deserve to be paid for your talent, for your time, for your hard work?”
The NFL has not spoken publicly on the matter.