Rooted on by a lawsuit first brought on by an Oakland Raiderette, a California lawmaker, a former Stanford University cheerleader herself, has proposed a bill that would force professional sports teams to treat cheerleaders just like any other employee.
“NFL teams and their billionaire owners have used professional cheerleaders as part of the game day experience for decades," California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said on Thursday announcing the introduction of AB 202. "They have capitalized on their talents without providing even the most basic workplace protections like a minimum wage."
Her bill would entitle cheer atheletes to be eligible for California's minimum wage, as well as overtime, and the right to paid sick time and workman's compensation, just like any other employee in the state. As it stands, most cheerleaders are treated as independent contractors, and sometimes, even volunteers, Gonzalez said.
The NFL has repeatedly declined comment on this issue, and spokesman Greg Aiello did not immediately return a phone call or email on Friday seeking comment.
Gonzalez, who said cheered at Stanford when she was an American Studies major in the 1990s and also served as a labor leader before being elected in 2013, gave direct credit to Lacy T., an Oakland Raiderette who was the first cheerleader in the country to sue a professional sports teams regarding alleged unfair labor practices in December 2014.
In November 2014, the Oakland Raiders settled a class action suit with the Raiderettes, paying Lacy T. and about 90 other cheerleaders a total of $1.25 million. Lacy T.'s suit, which inspired others around the nation, alleged that the football team violated state labor laws by failing to pay minimum wage. With all the time Lacy T. worked off the field - at practices and mandated community event attendances - she figured she earned less than $5 an hour, far below California's minimum wage.
Three Raiderettes, however, have since rejected that class action suit, and are continuing to pursue their work conditions case against the NFL. The NFL has argued in court that the football league is exempt from state labor laws.
Mike Taylor, a spokesman for the Oakland Raiders, also didn't immediately return a request for comment on Friday regarding Gonzalez's bill.
Big props to Oakland attys Leslie Levy & Sharon Vinick for Raiderettes case that inspired @LorenaSGonzalez cheerleader employment bill!— Robin Abcarian (@robinabcarian) January 29, 2015
Gonzalez said that Lacy T.'s case outlined a "stunning system of abuses against cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders stemming from the team’s misclassification of these cheerleaders."
That's because until the class action agreement almost three months ago, the Raiderettes, like many other cheerleaders around the country, were paid to cheer at games, but not paid when they were told to attend mandatory practices and community events. In an interview Friday, Gonzalez did note that the team was the only one seeming to "move ahead" by paying the Raiderettes $9 an hour, on and off the field.
But that's not enough. Gonzalez said she wants this practice to change for all pro sports teams in California. So far, she said she hasn't met any formal opposition to her idea. She hopes that enough people will care about this issue to get on board.
“If the guy selling you the beer deserves a minimum wage, so does the woman entertaining you on the field," she said. " All work is dignified and cheerleaders deserve the respect of these basic workplace protections."