NFL Teams Pay Cheerleaders Poverty-Level Wages

Members of some pro-football cheer squads make far less than the federal minimum wage, but their teams aren’t budging.

Jim Hightower, Alternet April 30, 2014

The Cincinnati 'Ben-gals' make about $2.85 an hour working for a team worth more than $900 million. (Team Spirit / Wikimedia Commons)

Reprint­ed with per­mis­sion from Alter­Net.

Some of our country's richest corporations have turned national wage laws into Swiss cheese, riddling them with special loopholes that let them escape paying even today's miserly minimum wage.

It does­n’t take an IQ much high­er than room tem­per­a­ture to real­ize that it’s way past time to raise Amer­i­ca’s sub-pover­ty min­i­mum wage of $7.25 an hour. But let’s also pay atten­tion to the mil­lions of peo­ple try­ing to make ends meet on — believe it or not — Amer­i­ca’s sub-min­i­mum wage.

Some of our coun­try’s rich­est cor­po­ra­tions have turned nation­al wage laws into Swiss cheese, rid­dling them with spe­cial loop­holes that let them escape pay­ing even today’s miser­ly min­i­mum wage. This amounts to whole­sale day­light rob­bery of restau­rant work­ers, farm work­ers, domes­tic work­ers, pro-foot­ball cheer­lead­ers, taxi dri­vers, and … wait a minute … back up … cheerleaders?

Give me an N! Nnnnnn!” Give me an F! Ffffff!” Give me an L! Lll­l­ll!” What does it spell? Greeeeeddd!

The mon­ster mon­ey­mak­ing machine known as the Nation­al Foot­ball League is con­tin­u­ing to run an off-field pow­er play against its valu­able and high­ly mar­ketable female team play­ers. Women on NFL teams? Yes — not run­ning plays, but on the side­lines run­ning the syn­chro­nized gym­nas­tics and pre­ci­sion dance rou­tines of pro­fes­sion­al cheer­lead­ers. These women are an inte­gral part of the spir­it, enter­tain­ment, pro­mo­tion and finan­cial suc­cess of this $9 bil­lion-a-year cor­po­rate enterprise.

Yes, super-rich NFL foot­ball teams, which sop up bil­lions of dol­lars in sub­si­dies from us tax­pay­ers, pay peanuts to their high­ly pub­li­cized cheer­lead­ing squads. Wide­ly assumed to be a glam­our job, it’s actu­al­ly a pover­ty job that requires long hours of ardu­ous prac­tice, involves fre­quent trav­el (at their own expense) for media appear­ances and char­i­ty events, and sub­jects the women to abu­sive treat­ment by supervisors.

Mem­bers of the Oak­land Raiders’ squad cal­cu­late that their pay works out to less than $5 an hour, while the Cincin­nati Ben­gals’ cheer­lead­ers (who bear the bur­den of being called Ben-Gals”) are paid about $2.85 an hour — far less than the fed­er­al min­i­mum wage — to be worked like mules, con­stant­ly abused, cheat­ed and dis­re­spect­ed. Aston­ish­ing­ly, though, a recent rul­ing by the U.S. Labor Depart­ment says that this does not vio­late fed­er­al law. Why? Because the macho sports indus­try got its cheer­lead­ers cat­e­go­rized as sea­son­al amuse­ment” — a loop­hole that exempts them from our nation­al pay rules. Side note: NFL’s mas­cots are con­sid­ered employ­ees” of the teams they rep­re­sent, wor­thy of a salary between $23,000 and $60,000 plus benefits.

Final­ly fed up, mem­bers of the Oak­land Raiderettes cheer­lead­ing squad have sued their team’s cor­po­rate hier­ar­chy for gross labor vio­la­tions. You’d think the bil­lion­aire own­ers of these sports king­doms would be embar­rassed to be pub­licly exposed as cheap­skate exploiters of women. I mean, why would­n’t they just pay $10 an hour, or — what the hell — $100? That’s pock­et change to them.

Instead, the Oak­land Raiders have rolled out their army of lawyers armed with a legal­is­tic bomb called manda­to­ry arbi­tra­tion.” The lawyers claim that, thanks to the sneaky arbi­tra­tion pro­vi­so tucked into the ladies’ employ­ment con­tracts, the cheer­lead­ers can­not go to court, but must sub­mit any com­plaints to a pri­vate arbiter.

And who would that be? Why the NFL com­mis­sion­er him­self, whose $44-mil­lion-a-year salary is paid by the teams’ own­ers! Why would he side with pover­ty-pay cheer­lead­ers against the regal own­ers who feath­er his own nest? He won’t, which is why these inde­fati­ga­ble women are not only chal­leng­ing the NFL’s abuse of them, but also the abuse we all suf­fer from the absurd cor­po­rate-rigged sys­tem of forced arbi­tra­tion.

The Pow­ers That Be are try­ing to trans­form our Land of Oppor­tu­ni­ty into their low-wage, plu­to­crat­ic province. From farm work­ers to cheer­lead­ers, we’re all in this togeth­er — and it’s time for us to get togeth­er to stop the plutocrats.

To keep up with the cheer­lead­ers’ case and see how they are stand­ing up for us, go to levyvinick​.com/​b​l​o​g​/news.

Jim High­tow­er is the author of six books, includ­ing Thieves in High Places (Viking 2003). A well-known pop­ulist and for­mer Texas Com­mis­sion­er of Agri­cul­ture, he cur­rent­ly writes a nation­al­ly-syn­di­cat­ed col­umn car­ried by 75 pub­li­ca­tions. He also writes a month­ly newslet­ter titled The High­tow­er Low­down, and con­tributes to the Pro­gres­sive Populist.
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