In a couple of seasons, when you are cheering on your favorite NFL team, the women leading the cheers will be guaranteed at least minimum wage — if they work for a team in California.
A bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 15 amends the law so that professional cheerleaders in California are considered to be employees of their teams. Previously, cheerleaders were considered independent contractors. This meant that teams could pay their cheerleaders less than $10 per hour, and did not have to provide basic benefits like sick days.
The bill seems to have been inspired, at least in part, by a class action lawsuit filed by 90 plaintiffs against the Oakland Raiders. That suit accused the Raiders of illegally categorizing the plaintiffs, all of whom had worked as cheerleaders for the team, as contractors instead of employees. The Raiders ended up paying the plaintiffs a total of $1.25 million, according to Fox News.
In a statement, the NFL claimed that the new law would have little effect on its operations. Which makes sense, given that the league offices have few cheerleaders on staff. However, it could make a significant difference in the lives of the cheerleader squads for the Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers.
It is the responsibility of all employers to properly categorize their workers, and those designated employees are legally entitled to certain rights, including the right to overtime pay, a minimum wage and meal breaks. Sometimes, litigation is necessary to enforce those rights.