Calls for a national strike of US cheerleaders over low pay disputes
Calls for a national strike of US cheerleaders over low pay Reuters

American football's female cheerleaders in California are threatening to go on their first national strike over pay.

The cheerleaders say they are paid less than their male counterparts and told how to dress, smile and even how to eat.

Members from the Oakland Raiderettes are suing the football team for "wage theft" and have warned that the boycott could spread across the United States.

"We shall do what is necessary," Lacy T, a cheerleader from the Oakland Raiderettes, told the Sunday Times. She is calling on her sister cheerleaders in other National Football League teams to down pom-poms.

Lacy T filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of herself and 40 other cheerleaders with the labour department because she believed that the Raiders were not paying them well enough.

There are 3.6m cheerleaders in America's schools and colleges. Only a few thousand turn professional to provide the half-time shows, working 10-hour days. They are paid around $5 (£3) an hour, which is $3 below the official Californian minimum wage.

Male cheerleaders – such as former president George W Bush in his college days – can earn three times as much for fewer hours.

"I cannot imagine a strike, but it's taking an act of Congress to embarrass the NFL into dealing with player head injuries. Maybe that is what it needs to get us girls noticed," said a former cheerleader for the San Diego chargers.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, cheerleaders are fined if they fail to bring the right pom-poms, wearing curlers to work or don't have a yoga mat to practice on. Any member who gained five pounds from her weight at the start of the season, or who appeared "too soft" to the squad's director, are place on the bench for the next home game.

They also have to buy their own equipment including false eyelashes, tights and white bra.

The harsh physical world of cheerleading was highlighted by the National Centre for Catastrophic Injuries. The organisation suggested that 65% of sports injuries among women under 25 is cheerleading-related.

The training can result in sprains and concussions, especially as the routines become more athletic. Women known as flyers are thrown 20ft into the air, a technique first introduced by the Dallas Cowboys squad.

Watch the video of the Columbus High School Cheerleading team