You probably don’t know the name Nily Rozic. She’s 29, lives in Queens, and as a two-term assemblywoman, is part of the ever-so-slowly changing face of a State Legislature that no longer has the likes of Vito Lopez or Dennis Gabryszak.
Her district office is 381 miles away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. So she might seem an unlikely choice to come to the aid of the Buffalo Jills.
But Rozic, like many women, was struck by the particularly ridiculous details of a wage lawsuit brought by five former Jills last year that seeks that most basic of employee benefits: pay. Following the lead of lawmakers in California, Rozic last week proposed changing New York State labor law to make it clear that professional cheerleaders are employees of the teams for which they cheer.
“If the guy selling you a beer deserves minimum wage, so does the woman entertaining the crowd on the field,” Rozic said. “All work is dignified and cheerleaders certainly deserve that same respect and basic workplace protection.”
The Jills – on indefinite hiatus– have had no shortage of national attention since the lawsuit was filed against the squad’s manager, the Buffalo Bills and the National Football League.
The league contends that the professional cheerleaders were independent contractors for a third-party vendor that ran the Jills. But attorneys for the former Jills who brought the suit say the cheerleaders’ manager and the football organization called the shots when it came to when, where and how the women worked, making them employees entitled to the same rights as everyone who earns minimum wage.
People across the nation have ogled a Jills handbook that mandated everything from the women’s personal hygiene to what kind of topics to talk about. (Hint: “Do not be overly opinionated about anything.”) They’ve been shocked at just how little compensation the Jills and other NFL cheerleading teams got outside of perks such as tickets and tanning. The handbook is as ridiculous as the notion that anyone who is part of building up the NFL experience should work the games for free.
“I really do applaud these women for standing up and challenging the NFL,” said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo, the second assemblywoman to sign on to the cheerleader bill. Rozic expects to get a Senate sponsor, as well. “They’re willing to do the work, and it’s not like the NFL is a deficit-run operation.”
Cheerleader pay can seem a trivial issue when fast-food workers are fighting for pay they can live on and nail salon workers are exploited with unsafe conditions. They shouldn’t need their own law to ensure worker rights already written into existing labor law. It’s even sadder that this issue has been around for years.
Twenty years ago, the Jills made national headlines when they became the first professional cheerleading team in the country to unionize. Back then, some of the cheerleaders complained of little compensation and having to pay their own way to the Super Bowl. Their manager dropped them not long after the vote.
“I’m a major Bills supporter,” Peoples-Stokes said last week. “But they should pay their cheerleaders.”
It’s not exactly an industry short on cash.