California Attempts the First Pass in the Fight for Cheerleader Minimum Wage

by Thomas S. Wolinetz

Cheerleaders of the National Football League (“NFL”) are fighting to get themselves classified as employees, which in turn would require them to be paid at least minimum wage.[1] The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour.[2] However, an NFL cheerleader could make less than $3.00 per hour in some instances.[3] Fortunately, it looks like change may be coming to the NFL sideline. State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of California introduced Bill 202 (“AB202”) on January 29, 2015, which would “treat cheerleaders of professional sports teams as employees under California law.”[4] Prior to AB202, cheerleaders were considered seasonal workers, thus denied federal minimum wage.[5]

Recently the cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, also known as the Raiderettes, were awarded a $1.25 million settlement for back wages owed to them.[6] Under the terms of the Raiderettes’ previous contract, the Raiderettes were paid less than $5.00 an hour.[7] However, the Raiderettes will be paid $9.00 an hour under their new contract.[8] Currently, the Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets are still dealing with related lawsuits.[9] The biggest issue that has been raised in these suits is whether the cheerleaders are employees or independent contractors.[10] The cheerleaders argued that by following the argument of the NFL teams; any worker other than a player could be regarded as, not an employee, thus, deprived of minimum wage.[11]

It is hard for NFL teams to argue that the cheerleaders do not deserve minimum wage, especially considering the fact that teams split six billion dollars in revenue last season.[12] According to Bloomberg Business Week, based on New York’s $8.00 per hour minimum wage, factoring in the twenty hours each Buffalo Bills cheerleader had to invest once they were selected as a cheerleader for the forty-two weeks of their cheerleading season (tryouts, practices, regular season, and playoff games), the Bills would have to invest $235,000 for the entire cheerleading squad.[13] Further, many believe cheerleaders are a fundamental part of the NFL’s game day experience. For this reason, it seems inconceivable that NFL teams would continue to pay cheerleaders next to nothing, especially since an average NFL ticket price is about $85.00.[14]

I love the NFL and believe that the cheerleaders are an integral part of the experience of watching a football game. However, I do not think that it is acceptable in any instance to pay an employee below minimum wage. That is why I believe AB202 is a great first step in the right direction. Understandably it is only California that will be affected by the passage of AB202. However, it may lead other states to follow suit. Misclassification of workers is a huge problem in the United States.[15] That is even more of a reason an organization as large and public as the NFL should not be contributing to the problem—especially since the NFL teams can clearly afford to pay the cheerleaders at least minimum wage. It is time for the NFL and the NFL teams to step up and follow the precedent that the Oakland Raiders set when they awarded their cheerleaders fair pay. However, if the NFL and the NFL teams are unwilling to take these steps to pay cheerleaders fair wages, then the states should follow California and pass bills similar to AB202. Hopefully, AB202 is the beginning of fair wages for all NFL cheerleaders.

[1] Ned Resnikoff, NFL cheerleaders join student-athletes in national labor fight, MSNBC (May 8, 2014, 05:36 PM), http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/labor-unrest-haunts-the-nfl-draft-day.

[2] Alison Doyle, Minimum Wage Rates for 2015, About.com, http://jobsearch.about.com/od/increase/fl/minimum-wage-rates-2015.htm (last visited Feb. 06, 2015).

[3] Tierney Sneed, String of Cheerleader Lawsuits the Next Headache for the NFL, U.S. News (Apr. 25, 2014, 05:08 PM), http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/04/25/buffalo-bills-suspend-cheerleading-squad-after-lawsuit-third-of-its-kind.

[4] Lorena Gonzalez proposes bill to provide professional sports cheerleaders with employee rights, LGBT Weekly (Jan. 29, 2015), http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/01/29/lorena-gonzalez-proposes-bill-to-provide-professional-sports-cheerleaders-with-employee-rights/.

[5] Sneed, supra note 3.

[6] Howard Bloom, NFL cheerleaders bring in money, but barely paid any, Sporting News Media (Sept. 11, 2014, 09:09 PM), http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/story/2014-09-11/nfl-cheerleaders-treatment-pay-salary-lawsuits-jills-raiderettes-minimum-wage-women.

[7] See id.

[8] See id.

[9] See id.

[10] Sneed, supra note 3.

[11] Lisa Fernandez, NFL: Immune to State Labor Law in Raiderette Suit, NBC (Aug. 18, 2014, 01:25 PM), http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/NFL-Claims-Immune-to-State-Labor-Laws-Raiderette-Cheerleaders-Lawsuit-271714411.html.

[12] Darren Rovell, NFL teams split $6B in revenue, ESPN.com (July 10, 2014, 08:45 PM), http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11200179/nfl-teams-divided-6-billion-revenue-according-green-bay-packers-financials.

[13] Ira Boudway, What are NFL Cheerleaders Worth? Inside Their Fight for Minimum Wage, Bloomberg (Sept. 10, 2014), http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-09-10/nfl-cheerleaders-battle-teams-for-minimum-wage.

[14] Bloom, supra note 6.

[15] Bob Sanders, State’s crackdown on worker misclassification not all it’s cracked up to be, NHBR (May 29, 2014), http://www.nhbr.com/May-30-2014/States-crackdown-on-worker-misclassification-not-all-its-cracked-up-to-be/.

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