Pom-pom pay: California bill gives cheerleaders minimum wage

Pom-Pom Pay: California Bill Gives Cheerleaders Minimum Wage

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — They boost their teams from the sidelines and promote them by appearing in calendars and at fan events, but some sports cheerleaders say they are still not considered team employees and are paid what amounts to less than minimum wage.

California legislation believed to be the first of its kind in the nation is set to change that. The bill sent to the governor this week would require cheerleaders to be paid at least minimum wage and overtime and sick leave if they work for professional sports teams based in California.

"Everyone who works hard to provide a great game-day experience deserves the same basic level of dignity and respect on the job, starting with simply being paid for their work," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the legislation.

PHOTOS: Cheerleaders for California's professional teams:

California cheerleaders now to earn minimum wage
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Pom-pom pay: California bill gives cheerleaders minimum wage
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)

A similar bill was introduced in New York state this year.

The focus on cheerleader pay comes after a spate of recent lawsuits against NFL teams alleging they did not pay cheerleaders for hours they spent practicing and making public appearances. Attorneys for some of the cheerleaders say the California legislation is good but existing law already says cheerleaders are employees entitled to minimum wage.

"It's nice to have clarifying legislation, but I don't think it changes the state of the law at all," said attorney Sharon Vinick, who represented former Oakland Raiders cheerleaders in a lawsuit against the team.

Raiders cheerleaders were paid $125 per home game, or $1,250 per season, in a contract that included hours of unpaid rehearsals and charity and commercial appearances, Vinick said. That translated to less than $5 an hour.

Vinick reached a $1.25 million settlement last year on behalf of dozens of Raiderettes who worked for the team from 2010 to 2013. She rejected the team's classification of the cheerleaders as independent contractors, saying the team decided what dances they performed and music they used and set strict requirements for them.

Vinick also rejected arguments that the women were receiving exposure that could open up opportunities in modeling or other fields.

"If you are a young starting quarterback, you get lot of notoriety for that, but you also get paid for that work," she said. "The fact that the women might get some opportunities doesn't justify not paying them."

Reuel Schiller, a professor of labor and employment law at the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, says certain factors qualify a worker as an independent contractor, including who has control over the work performed and who covers disability insurance.

"Under that measure, it's kind of hard to see cheerleaders as independent contractors," he said, adding that sports teams control such things as uniforms, dance steps and where they perform.

Schiller said a more accurate description of an "independent contractor" would be if a team called a dance studio and requested performers for a specific game.

In New York, cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills were not paid at all, even for game days, said Sean Cooney, a partner at the Dolce Panepinto law firm who is representing six cheerleaders in lawsuits filed last year that name the team. The cheerleaders also had to pay for their uniforms and hair and makeup.

"All because it was a job they like, that they were told was a privilege," Cooney said.

Calls to Bills and Raiders' representatives were not immediately returned. The Raiders in court documents said the cheerleaders' lawsuit should be handled by league arbitration.

The New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers also have been sued over cheerleader pay, with the Buccaneers reaching a settlement this year.

The NFL declined to comment on California's legislation. NFL teams are advised to follow state and federal employment laws, and team cheerleaders are not employed by the league.

Cooney said the Bills cheerleaders also are suing the NFL because it approved an agreement that classified them as independent contractors who would not be paid.


Associated Press Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and writer Kristin J. Bender contributed to this report.

Related -- check out these photos from the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader auditions:
Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Auditions
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Pom-pom pay: California bill gives cheerleaders minimum wage
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