By LeBron Shames
Austin, Tex. – Starting Tuesday, organizations that govern the sport of roller derby are set to meet behind closed doors in Austin to discuss a proposal by a group of the sport’s officials. A large group of roller derby referees and officials have laid forth demands for hourly pay and recognition of a labor union.
It is unclear how the referendum ratified last month by the International Roller Officials League, IROL (pronounced “I role”) , will impact the game as overseen by the Women’s Flat-Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA) and USA Roller Sports. The impetus for unionization and fair play came about after questionable treatment of some derby officials demonstrated the need for a set of standards on how skating referees and non-skating officials, (called NSOs) are staffed, protected and compensated for their time.
“Some of our refs were getting pulled in all different directions,” said Shawne Rockey, a head referee for the Texas Valley Roller Revolution who goes by the name Rocky Balbone-Ya.
Rockey states that she and other referees and NSOs at Texas Valley were not only responsible for officiating the game, but in some instances were expected to sell t-shirts, and clean up after bouts, as well as staff a makeshift indoor beer garden and hot dog cart to serve patrons.
“I love roller derby, but I had to quit,” said Leonardo DeCapitate, another former official who didn’t want to give his real name. “Sometimes dealing with players can be tough enough. But it was the fans that really got to me,” he said.
Rockey also said that as Texas Valley’s popularity grew in the center of the state, crowds got bigger and often rowdier. Sometimes brawls between players –not to mention scuffles between players and fans—ensued. About a year ago, Rockey said she found herself tackling an intoxicated and nude fan, while trying to apprehend him from interfering in the league championship bout as other rowdy fans cheered him on.
After that streaker incident made the local and then national news, roller derby officials from various parts of the US reached out to Rockey by phone and email. A month later talk of better treatment and organizing came about.
The new union proposal comes on the heels of the mandate a new set of rules for most of roller derby. The set of new rules, formulated by WFTDA, ratified earlier in 2014, go into effect April 1. The new rules set forth act as standard procedure for all game play for any WFTDA league or organization that conforms to WFTDA play. MRDA men’s teams also follow WFTDA rules, while USARS roller derby teams play according to their own rule set and guidelines.
Maureen Sanders, an Austin-based attorney for the group of referees, said on Monday that the upcoming meetings with the sport’s governing bodies were important. She hints that the main purpose of IROL and unionization is to protect refs from grueling game schedules and arduous afterparties.
“We want to make sure that organization leaders are clear on how IROL and skaters can improve the game and push it forward.”
Association presidents of MRDA, WFTDA and USARS were not available for comment on the matter. According to one inside press contact, all three organizations’ offices were closed for April Fools’ Day.