The NFL cheerleader wage theft war

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Football's most famous fans may finally be getting a voice. After years of embarrassingly low pay and overall poor treatment, the working conditions of NFL cheerleaders, specifically with regard to wages, seem to be improving. As a recent New York Times article noted, "The cultural dial is turning." So, what exactly is changing, and why?

Mistreatment

Though cheerleaders are forced to meet high athletic and aesthetic standards and keep jam-packed schedules (42 weeks of work a year, multiple practices a week, regular media and promotional appearances, and attendance at team events), the NFL has historically (and repeatedly) avoided paying minimum wage by citing cheerleaders' status as independent contractors, which exempts the League from abiding by state labor laws.

Up until last September, cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, known as Raiderettes, were paid a mere $125 a game (or $5 an hour), according to a recent pro-cheerleader op-ed in Time. Cheerleaders for the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders make even less – $100 per game (for a total of 11 years a game a year, on average), according to Mother Jones.

See photos of the Raiderettes:

15 PHOTOS
California cheerleaders now to earn minimum wage
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The NFL cheerleader wage theft war
FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2014, file phot, Oakland Raiders cheerleaders perform before an NFL football game between the Raiders and the Arizona Cardinals in Oakland, Calif. California lawmakers are sending Gov. Jerry Brown a bill making it clear that professional cheerleaders are sports team employees. The bill approved by the state Senate on Monday, June 29, 2015, would require that cheerleaders be paid at least minimum wage if they work for professional sports teams based in California. AB202 says they would have to be paid for overtime and sick leave, the same as other employees. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
The Oakland Raiderettes cheerleaders perform before the NFL football game between Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
FILE- In this Oct. 6, 2013, file photo, Oakland Raiders cheerleaders hold pink pom-poms for breast cancer awareness before an NFL football game between the Raiders and the San Diego Chargers in Oakland, Calif. California lawmakers are sending Gov. Jerry Brown a bill making it clear that professional cheerleaders are sports team employees. The bill approved by the state Senate on Monday, June 29, 2015, would require that cheerleaders be paid at least minimum wage if they work for professional sports teams based in California. AB202 says they would have to be paid for overtime and sick leave, the same as other employees. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: The Raiderettes perform prior to kickoff during the NFL match between the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium on September 28, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Nicky Hayes/NFL UK - Pool /Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Oakland Raiders cheerleaders rally the crowd against the Denver Broncos at O.co Coliseum on November 9, 2014 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 20: The San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush cheerleaders perform in Santa Claus costumes before the 49ers take on the San Diego Chargers at Levi's Stadium on December 20, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 29: The San Diego Chargers cheerleaders dance on the field during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs on December 29, 2013 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: A San Francisco 49ers cheerleader looks on during the game against the Chicago Bears at Levi's Stadium on September 14, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 20: The Gold Rush cheerleaders cheer on the San Francisco 49ers during their game against the Oakland Raiders at Candlestick Park on August 20, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 16: The Golden State Warriors dance team in action during player introductions before their game against the Los Angeles Lakers at ORACLE Arena on March 16, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25: The Laker Girls dance squad perform during a break in the NBA game between the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 25, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Knicks 100-94. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 23: The Golden State Warriors dance team performs during their game against the Sacramento Kings at ORACLE Arena on January 23, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28: Los Angeles Kings ice girls celebrate a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on April 28, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors cheerleaders perform as Warriors players are introduced before Game 6 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, May 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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The Cincinnati Bengals Ben-Gals receive only $90.The New York Jets Flight Crew make slightly more – $150 a game – but the Buffalo Jills have it worst of all. Rather than actual money, all they get is a $90 game ticket and a $25 parking pass for home games, according to Mother Jones.

Former Raiderette Lacy Thibodeaux told the Times that Raiders cheerleaders were also not compensated for travel and other work-related experiences.

"Your contract states that you're not allowed to talk about your money," said Thibodeaux. "They think it's a joke, 'Oh, these little cheerleaders.'"

To put the compensation (or lack thereof) into perspective, cheerleaders make an estimated $8.25 million in game day TV appearances for the NFL, according to Time, and Commissioner Roger Goodell was reportedly compensated $44 million in 2013 alone.

Along with unfair compensation, additional subpar treatment has included insulting practices such as body fat and menstrual cycle monitoring, according to the Times. To cite one example, the Buffalo Bills Jills claim to being subjected to weekly "jiggle tests" designed to measure their fat.

An NFL cheerleader explain the 'jiggle test':

NFL Cheerleader Explains The 'Jiggle Test'

Improvements

In July, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring that cheerleaders be considered employees instead of independent contractors, which along with an enforced minimum wage, means breaks and paid sick leave, according to The Los Angeles Times. It will go into effect for the 2016 season.

Earlier this year, New York State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and State Senator Diane Savino introduced a bill similar to California's, followed last week by a letter sent by a total of 18 policymakers representing eight states, requesting that NFL legally enforce a minimum wage requirement.

In reply to the letter, an NFL spokesman told The New York Times, "Teams are advised to follow state and federal employment laws. Under those laws, cheerleaders are not employed by the league."

Though the NFL's response wasn't especially promising, some state legislators are clearly increasingly making moves on the cheerleaders' behalf, as are the cheerleaders themselves, not only in the form of high-profile media attention but also legal action.

The latter has resulted in a handful of concrete changes, particularly in the wake of a slew of recent lawsuits filed by cheerleaders from teams including the Oakland Raiders, the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, some of which have resulted in victory for the cheerleaders.

In September 2014, the the Raiderettes received a $1.25 million settlement from the Raiders, and the Buccaneers's cheerleaders received an $825,000 settlement in March 2015. Both teams implemented minimum wage as of the 2014-2015 season.

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