Cheerleaders for California’s professional sports teams are one step closer to full employment rights. The state assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment last week approved legislation that would require the teams to pay cheerleaders the legal minimum wage and grant them other basic employment rights.
The legislation, introduced by state Rep. Lorena Gonzalez (D) in January, followed multiple lawsuits that alleged NFL teams failed to pay cheerleaders the state and federal minimum wage and violated overtime and other employment laws. The first suit was filed against the Oakland Raiders; similar claims followed against the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, and Cincinnati Bengals. The suits all claimed that teams paid cheerleaders well below state and federally-mandated minimum wage laws (in the Raiders’ case, less than $5 per hour) once games, practice time, and charity appearances were included. They also claimed that cheerleaders were required to spend their own money on hair and make-up.
The legislation would classify cheerleaders as full employees instead of as independent contractors that may not be subject to minimum wage and other labor laws.
“AB 202 simply demands that any professional sports team – or their chosen contractor – treat the women on the field with the same dignity and respect that we treat the guy selling beer,” Gonzalez said in a release announcing the bill’s passage.
Caitlin Yates, a former Raiders cheerleader, was among those who testified in support of the legislation before it passed.
“When I first started working as a Raiderette, I was just happy to make the squad and support my team. However, over time I realized that the way I was being treated was unfair,” Yates said at the hearing, according to Gonzalez’s release. “I’ve talked to other cheerleaders from other teams. There are some teams out there who don’t treat their cheerleaders as employees or pay their cheerleaders a fair wage. We are professionals who deserved to be paid fairly no matter what team we play for.”
In September, the Raiders reached a $1.25 million preliminary settlement with the cheerleaders who sued the team. And in July, the Raiders quietly announced that they would pay cheerleaders the minimum wage during the 2014-2015 NFL season. The four other lawsuits are still ongoing.
Gonzalez’s bill will now proceed to the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media, which is becoming a busy place for sports-related legislation. It is also considering a bill from state. Rep. Luis Alejo (D) that would require four of the state’s high schools to change their “Redskins” nicknames.