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The recent March 8 Women’s Strike fomented a lot of debates around privilege and power, about what it means to go on strike from one’s work, even when that work is something you love. Those are subjects that the women of USA Hockey’s national team know very well. This week the players went public with their demands that USA Hockey treat them fairly and give them a four-year contract. Without improvements in their working conditions, the women say they will not play in the upcoming 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship.
Equal pay for equal work is a demand of women around the globe, yet these athletes—despite dominating their sport in international competition, where only Canada is on their level—get nothing close to it. They make just $20,000 for four years of play. But their demands go beyond wages; they’re also asking for USA Hockey to put money into the sport as a whole, from support for girls’ youth hockey to marketing for the game.
Following the attempt by the World Cup-winning U.S. women’s soccer team to go on strike for equal pay, the hockey players’ threat is another sign that athletes are no longer willing to play just for love, and that women will not stand for second-rate treatment any more. In an ironic twist, because they have no union contract, the hockey players are not bound by the kind of no-strike clause that ultimately forced the soccer stars onto the field. They’ve gotten support from soccer players Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd as well as from men’s hockey icon Mike Eruzione and perhaps most importantly, the National Women’s Hockey League, which has promised that none of its players will play in the replacement team USA Hockey is saying it will field.
Yesterday I spoke with Monique Lamoureux-Morando, a two-time Olympic silver medalist who plays defense for the national team, about the unprecedented move, and how the recent Women’s Strike and political unrest in the country helped spur the team to act.
Sarah Jaffe: Could you give me the rundown on what the conditions are and what led you to take this action?
Monique Lamoureux-Morando: About fifteen months ago we got in contact with Ballard Spahr law firm and specifically John Langel, who used to represent the U.S. women’s soccer team. We talked to him as an entire group and decided that we wanted to move forward in addressing USA Hockey about being under contract for a four-year period. This would include being compensated, having more programming, having disability insurance, workers’ comp, pregnancy benefits, the whole gamut.
We knew about a year ago that if significant progress wasn’t being made that we could potentially end up having to strike, and a year has come and gone. We are where we are today because very little to no progress has been made. USA Hockey is not listening to us. We feel like this is finally getting their attention, but they still have not contacted our lawyers.
Jaffe: Tell me about the process of deciding that if you did not get a fair contract then you would refuse to play.
Lamoureux-Morando: At this point we haven’t received a contract from USA Hockey. We have given them a proposed draft of what we want, which is the second time we’ve done that over the last ten months. Both times they have not responded with any negotiating terms. But as a team we have a group of players who are coming up to their third Olympics—about eight of us—and a group coming up to their second Olympics, and we feel that we are not treated fairly. We feel that we should be under contract for over a four-year period and not just six months of four years.
A lot of us work second and third jobs and it’s hard to balance all of the things that we do. We’re expected to show up to camp every six to eight weeks and be in tip-top shape. We can’t perform at an elite level by sitting around for six or eight weeks at a time and then just showing up at camp. It’s a full-time job being an athlete.
Jaffe: You mentioned that this was the law firm that had worked with the women’s soccer players. I’d love to talk about the context of that, making this decision after they had taken a very public stand on equal pay. What does this say for women’s sports more generally?
Lamoureux-Morando: About seventeen years ago the women soccer players first set out to be paid by U.S. Soccer. Around that time the women’s hockey team did a similar thing. USA Hockey put a little bit of pressure on the players and kicked them out of the Olympic training center. They panicked and since then no progress has been made.
You look at the women’s soccer team: they’ve been under contract and they’ve made strides. The hockey and soccer teams are now vastly different, even though they started in very similar spots seventeen years ago.
A year ago we didn’t know that this was all going to come to a head. With the climate of the country, it’s kind of perfect timing.
Jaffe: When you say that, are you talking about the political situation and the response with things like the Women’s March and the Women’s Strike?
Lamoureux-Morando: There’s the Women’s March, the Women’s Strike, the Day Without a Woman, International Women’s Day, U.S. Soccer with Equal Play Equal Pay. All of that has been going on in the last couple of months and we’re now playing a role in that as the women’s hockey team.
Jaffe: As a woman and a hockey fan, I hear a lot of assumptions that because hockey is such a physical sport, women can’t play it. Why should we value that women can also play this sport, and why should we invest in it and value it as much as we invest in women’s soccer and other sports that we are used to women playing?
Lamoureux-Morando: I think a lot of people take the stance that women’s hockey is not marketable and it can’t make them money. But if you don’t invest marketing and time and PR into it you’re not going to get a return. You have to do the legwork to grow the sport; you saw that with U.S. Soccer, what they’ve done to grow the program and to grow the game and we believe that we put a similar product on the ice. We believe that if you build it they will come. The University of Wisconsin does “Fill the Bowl” every year: they sell out a 15,000-seat arena, and that’s a Division I college program. So you’re telling me that one of the top Division I college programs in the country can sell out a rink but the women’s national team can’t? I don’t buy that.
Jaffe: Anything else that you want people to know about what’s going on?
Lamoureux-Morando: I think a lot of people assume that this is just the women’s national team and the twenty-three players that are on the roster today. But this is more than just us twenty-three players; this is for all the players who have come before us and all the players who are going to come after us. We’re not doing this to make millions of dollars. We just want to make a livable wage as full-time athletes, which USA Hockey expects us to be. We’re not asking for the moon and the stars, we’re just asking to be treated equitably.
Sarah Jaffe is on the editorial board of Dissent, co-host of its Belabored podcast, and the author of Necessary Trouble (Nation Books).
Monique Lamoureux-Morando is a two-time Olympic silver medalist who plays defense for USA Hockey’s women’s national team.