When the Oakland Raiderettes begin their cheerleading season this summer, “Football’s Fabulous Females” will be paid California's minimum wage, for the first time in team history, for the time they spend practicing, visiting sick children and posing for the annual team calendar.
That translates to about $3,000 a season, or $9 an hour.
In previous years, in addition to twirling and kicking during Raiders' games at the Oakland Coliseum, Raiderettes were required to show up three hours before each home game, attend 10 charity events a year, pose for photo shoots, and attend parties, drills and three rehearsals a week.
All of that work went unpaid, until now.
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The cheerleaders' new hourly salary, quietly divulged by the Raiders this month, might not seem like much. Especially because the trained dancers are being paid by the National Football League, which is valued at $10 billion.
The Raiders announced the salary on audition fliers that have since been taken down from the website. Two cheerleaders and two attorneys confirmed that they saw the new salary amount.
But earning minimum wage in California is a big deal to the cheerleader who first sued the Raiders in December, claiming that all the unpaid time she put into the Raiderettes yielded an illegal salary of just about $5 an hour.
“I think it’s great,” Lacy T. said in an interview last week. “The girls should get paid.”
But the case isn’t over yet.
In fact, the two sides agreed to begin arbitratrating the matter in mid-July – the results of which, Lacy T.’s Oakland lawyers Sharon Vinick and Leslie Levy argue, must be made public.
The lawyers estimate that each cheerleader is owed back pay of $10,000 to $20,000 and attorneys’ fees. Nothing, however, has been put in writing as to whether the cheerleaders will still have to pay out-of-pocket expenses for such things as makeup and hair.
While many support the women, others – mostly die-hard Raiders fans and even some co-cheerleaders – say the four Raiderettes who have sued in two separate class action lawsuits shouldn't complain.
The young women should consider themselves lucky to have the glamorous jobs, critics say, and should be happy with what they historically have been paid: $125 per game, or $1,250 a year, paid at the end of the football season. They shouldn't complain, the critics add, about not being paid for their time when they're not on the field.
Oakland Raiderettes visit a sick child at the Ronald McDonald house at Stanford University in 2014. Courtesy Steve Bigbee.
Ray Perez, 26, is a Sacramento State University communications major by day who goes by “Dr. Death” at Raiders games. He is an ardent Raiders fan who has often accompanied the Raiderettes at some of their charity events, such as visiting sick children at the Ronald McDonald’s house. The cheerleaders have been mandated to attend these events, but have not previously been paid for them.
“This isn’t supposed to be a career,” Perez said. “It’s an internship. You put in your time and you helped pad your stats. This is something you’re supposed to put on your resume. They weren’t blindsided. They don’t have to work there.”
It’s hard to know exactly why the Raiders started paying the cheerleaders $9 an hour for non-game events, because the team refuses to speak publicly about the lawsuit. Spokesman Mike Taylor has repeatedly declined comment.
But the move comes six months after Lacy T.’s lawsuit filed in Alameda County Court, which has since inspired similar suits in by a Cincinnati Ben-Gal cheerleader, a Flight Crew cheerleader against the New York Jets, five Buffalo Jills against the Bills, a Buccaneer cheerleader in Tampa Bay and finally, a second suit against the Raiders, filed by Caitlyn Y. of San Francisco and Jenny C. of Marin County (PDF).
The final suit also takes on the National Football League, claiming a host of other “deplorable” working conditions. The NFL has also repeatedly declined comment. A spokesman has not returned several calls and emails.
All the suits across the country in one way or another allege the teams are violating fair labor standards acts, which address minimum wage and overtime laws.
In court papers, the Raiders have not yet stated the team’s position on pay. The team did file a motion with the court arguing the plaintiffs have no right to a trial and that but signed contracts require that “all disputes” must be arbitrated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
But just because someone has signed a contract doesn’t make it right or fair if the contract is “illegal on its face,” Vinick said.
Lacy T., 28, a business management graduate from Louisiana Tech who lives in Alameda with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, has been dancing since the age of 4 and doesn’t consider herself an “intern.” She also cheered for the Golden State Warriors, where she said she never had to pay out-of-pocket expenses for hair or makeup.
“I have an expectation that I should be paid for my work,” she said. “It’s just so ignorant to me that in the year 2014, you aren’t being paid for the hours that you work.”
She said she’s gotten a few emails from people calling her a “dumb rookie” after filing her suit. And she’s decided she’s not going back to the team, and not only because her husband has gotten a job in London.
“Why would I go back? I don’t think I would get picked for any appearances. I think they’d put me in the back. It wouldn’t be worth my time," she said.
Caitlin Y., however, is taking a different approach.
On Sunday, the 26-year-old, who grew up in Palo Alto, joined dozens of other young women at this year’s Raiderettes tryouts. Walking in by herself in a gold dress with three-inch high heels, the Santa Clara University graduate decided to face the squad – and the team she sued.
“I’ve wanted to be a Raiderette since I was a kid,” she said, adding that she has been dancing since she was 6, and trained most of her life at the San Francisco Ballet School. “I just loved watching them.”
When she started with the team four years ago, Caitlin Y. said, “I would have signed anything. I felt so lucky to be there.”
But she kept “brushing things aside, the money, the way we were treated,” she said. “I kept wondering if it was legal. Can they do this do us?” She saw that ballet dancers were unionized and treated fairly. She wanted more.
“I have trained my whole life for dancing,” Caitlin Y. said. “I have respect for my skills.”
She’s surprised at some of the hate she’s gotten since filing her suit. Some Raiders’ fans have defriended her from Facebook. A few “nasty comments” have popped up in her news feed.
But mostly, she said, the negativity hails from the close-knit Raiders’ circle. “People outside that bubble,” she said, “have been really supportive.”
She relied on that support on Sunday, she said, when she put a “smile on my face” and headed into tryouts.
“I’m 100 percent ready to go back,” she said. “I love being a Raiderette. I love the Raiders. I’m just trying to make our working conditions better.”