5 Billion-Dollar Industries That Treat Workers Like Garbage
When we talk about industries built on human suffering, you might think of clothing sweatshops, machine manufacturing, mineral mining, or the government. Basically all of the government. Any government. It might surprise you to learn the misery goes much deeper. Even our most popular forms of entertainment can treat their employees like absolute trash. And not the fancy trash, either, like bonbon wrappers or iPhone packaging. We're talking straight-up Hot Pocket sleeve hate-garbage. For example ...
The NFL Treats Its Cheerleaders Terribly
It probably won't surprise anyone to learn that a form of entertainment that uses scantily clad ladies to make men horny enough to buy warm beer has some problematic elements. To borrow a famous quote, though, we expected nothing from this industry, and we were still let down.
Each of the cheerleading squads attached to NFL teams have a handbook listing the rules and regulations that each cheerleader has to follow. Some of these rules are bad in an expected way, such as how each one has to maintain an "ideal body weight" and be subjected to regular weigh-ins, as well as avoid piercings and tattoos.
And then there are the unexpectedly awful rules that some teams enforce.
Many teams classify cheerleaders as part-time workers, meaning that they don't get most (if any) standard benefits, or indeed, a decent paycheck at the end of the season. Despite this, however, a lot of teams have rules governing how cheerleaders have to conduct themselves in their everyday lives. When using social media, for instance, many can't post pictures of themselves, disclose who they work for, or follow players of the team that employs them. If a player follows them, the cheerleader has to block them immediately or risk being fired.
The handbook for the New Orleans Saints takes this no-contact rule even further, and dictates that "if a cheerleader enters a restaurant and a player is already there, she must leave ... if a cheerleader is in a restaurant and a player arrives afterward, she must leave." Holding cheerleaders accountable for the actions of players who approach them might seem like the peak of ridiculousness, but this is a team that recently fired a cheerleader for posting a lingerie picture to her private, locked Instagram account.
The handbook for the Buffalo Jills used to advise cheerleaders about the correct way to wash their "intimate areas," saying that they should "never use a deodorant or chemically enhanced product ... simple, non-deodorant soap will help maintain the right PH balance." Between this, the manual about how to use tampons, and the fact that the team used to send cheerleaders into the stands during halftime to sell calendars to drunken horny uncles -- which terrified them, for reasons that should be obvious -- it's little wonder that the Jills filed suit against the team in 2014, alleging mistreatment. Which resulted in ... the squad being disbanded.
Other cheerleading squads have sued over this kind of treatment by their teams. In 2017, the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders were hit with a class-action lawsuit by several cheerleaders alleging that the teams had "manipulated the market in order to pay the cheerleaders wages below market value," alongside several allegations of mistreatment. The Raiders can't say that they weren't warned about this, though, considering that they were sued in several other years for paying their cheerleaders sub-minimum wage and forcing them to attend unpaid rehearsals. (This lawsuit ended with a $1.25 million settlement and a squad-wide pay increase of $9 per hour.)
As for why more cheerleaders don't push back against their working conditions, we'll let the handbook for the Oakland Raiderettes play us out:
Remember, as important as you are to our organization, football is the name of the game. Fans would come to see the games whether or not we had cheerleaders. Cheerleaders enhance the game but the important thing is that people come to see football and will still come whether or not we have cheerleaders.
The message is clear: Behave or else.
The Biggest Movie Theaters Are Exploiting Their Janitors
As Variety recently described, movie theater chains such as AMC, Regal, and Cinemark have all outsourced the cleaning of their theaters to professional outfits, which in turn subcontract the job to underpaid, vulnerable immigrants like Maria Alvarez -- who was contracted at the behest of AMC to clean an entire theater for the princely sum of $300 per week, or $5 an hour.
Despite holding her to working seven days a week, from sunset to sunrise, the company that contracted Alvarez refused to provide her with sick days, holidays, or medical benefits. When she suffered a workplace injury and requested (on doctor's orders) a lighter workload, she was fired for being too much of a rabble-rouser. She was eventually awarded $80,000 in compensation by the local labor board, but due to the structure in which she was employed, neither AMC or her contractor were liable, and she wound up only receiving $3,500.
Alvarez's story isn't unusual. It's a widespread pattern across the country, and every account that Variety found referenced long hours, a back-breaking schedule, awful pay, and a casual "Go to hell" attitude when the subject of holidays or raises came up. The hours are so punitive and the wages so poor that it isn't unheard-of for cleaners to bring their children to work, all because they can't afford babysitting.
The contractor/subcontractor structure also means that the chains get to enjoy the low, low prices that can only come from exploiting laborers and the fact that they're essentially immune to any legal repercussions. As an attorney who filed a go-for-broke class-action lawsuit on behalf of several cleaners "employed" by Cinemark described the situation, there are few differences between this work and the agricultural work that many immigrants find themselves forced into. And if you think that's a hyperbolic comparison, here's how a cleaner who was employed by Regal described her working conditions.
"I don't know what Hell is like, but I think it would be like that. Sometimes I was crying because my feet couldn't take it anymore. My back couldn't take it anymore. I didn't know how I could finish the work I had to do."
So maybe just stick to streaming this weekend. You could catch up on Game Of Thrones or ... wait, no, don't do that. You're trying to feel better.
The WWE Doesn't Provide Its Wrestlers With Health Insurance
If there's any kind of sportsperson most in need of health benefits, it's the ones who take a chair to the head every day. But they do not, because the WWE is managed by Vince McMahon, and Vince McMahon is an ass wipe of the most unflushable variety.
As John Oliver laid out on Last Week Tonight, McMahon and the WWE force wrestlers to sign exclusivity contracts that prohibit them from taking their talents elsewhere, while also only employing them as "independent contractors" to whom they don't have to provide health benefits. When wrestlers have gotten seriously injured or succumbed to something in their post-retirement years, it's fallen on fans to support with crowdfunding campaigns. Incidentally, McMahon is currently valued at $3.2 billion.
It's not as though wrestlers just go along with this situation. In 1986, Jesse Ventura floated the idea of forming a union to a locker room full of wrestlers, only for Hulk Hogan to rat him out to McMahon, which ended with Ventura coming within an atomic leg drop of being fired.
Movie And TV Productions Are Killing Stunt Performers
Up until 2017, the last death associated with Hollywood stunt work was way back in 2002. That's a 15-year streak! Not bad for an industry built on people pretending to die in a convincing manner. And then on July 12, John Bernacker fell 20 feet onto a concrete floor while filming a stunt for The Walking Dead and died after sustaining a serious head injury. Only a few months later, motorcycle racer Joi Harris was killed on the set of Deadpool 2 after a motorcycle stunt went awry. In 2018, stuntwoman Lori Harper filed suit against Sony Pictures after she sustained cervical injuries and a traumatic brain injury while filming a stunt during production of Rough Night, while stuntman Justin Sundquist was so badly injured while filming a stunt for MacGyver that he fell into a coma. Sundquist sustained a prior injury while performing a stunt for Hawaii Five-O in 2016. Sarah Jones, a camera operator, was struck and killed by a train while filming a stunt for Midnight Rider in 2014. So what's going on? Did the entire industry offend a local witch, and are they now suffering the inevitable curse?
Well, in the view of stunt professionals, the rise in deaths and serious injuries largely stems from the fact that as more and more shows/movies are being made, qualified stunt coordinators -- the people whose sole job is it to ensure the safety of performers and raise any issues to the director -- are becoming a rarer commodity. This is leading productions to hire any ol' random who has a resume describing them as a Quality Stunt Doer Person.
While there's no specific qualification a person can pick up to prove that they're a qualified stunt coordinator, the death of Joi Harris prompted SAG-AFTRA to create a process through which budding coordinators can prove their accreditation. As people working within the stunt community have pointed out, however, this accreditation process isn't mandatory, meaning that productions that are too dumb (or worse) to care about the safety of their stunt people are still able to risk people's lives without fear of punishment.
At least until the robots take their jobs and force them to work as baristas (right up until robot baristas take that away too).
A Shocking Number of Disney Park Employees Are On the Poverty Line
While Disney might bill its parks as the happiest places on the planet, that opinion isn't shared by their employees -- and not just because of the communal underwear and alligator attacks. A disturbingly high number of them aren't earning enough money to be able to afford monthly expenses like food, clothing, and housing.
In interviews conducted by The New York Times, anonymous employees of Disneyland described how despite working every hour that they can, they still don't earn enough to be able to counteract the high cost of living in California. As a result, many are forced to either couchsurf, commute from a neighboring state (which comes with massive fuel costs), or failing everything else, sleep in their cars and presumably bathe every morning in the moat of Cinderella's Castle.
These findings are also supported by a survey of 1,000+ park employees conducted by a labor union last year, which revealed that not only did three-quarters of surveyed employees not make enough money to meet their living costs, but that 15% received food stamps and/or visited food banks to stay afloat, while a staggering 10% reported having been homeless at some point during their employment.
As we mentioned above, the root cause is the low pay combined with the high cost of living in California. According to figures provided by the California Budget & Policy Center, anyone wanting to make it needs to earn a minimum of $33,000 a year if they don't want to starve -- a figure that equates to an hourly wage of roughly $15. Which isn't great, considering that less than half of Disneyland's workforce are making that figure.
On one hand, it'd be easy to point out that this issue isn't endemic to Disney specifically. The minimum wage in California is currently $12 an hour, which is pretty high compared to the minimum wage in other states, but one that doesn't work in a state where $15 only gets someone the bare necessities of life (sorry). What does $12 an hour get someone, you might wonder? We don't know, we're too busy reading about how California has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country.
Like we said, it'd be easy to write this off as an issue outside of Disney's control. The only problem with that is that it's also happening over at Disney World in Florida. The high cost of living in Orlando combined with the relatively low wage that they're paid means that park workers aren't able to afford housing.
The fact that it's nigh-impossible to find an area with low living costs that's within commutable distance of these parks isn't a coincidence or a bug in the free market. It's a direct consequence of Disney's presence in those areas, and there's no reason a company that has assets worth $98.6 billion can't stump up a few extra dollars to ensure that their employees don't have to subside on stale popcorn and memories of better times.
Remember that survey we were talking about only a few paragraphs ago? When those results were released, Disney was quick to decry them as "inaccurate and unscientific" and the work of "politically-motivated labor unions," which is a fair comment. Why can't labor unions be a wholesome, apolitical force like Disney? Oh wait, they meant the bad way of being "politically-motivated," which is pointing out how a homeless park employee freezing to death in her car might've been an avoidable tragedy. Not the good way of being "politically-motivated," which is colluding with the government to shut down a vote on whether service workers can collect sick pay. Our mistake.
For more, check out How Stanley Kubrick Is The Real Villain In The Shining:
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