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Labor Champion Lorena Gonzalez Has Momentum for Proper NFL Cheerleader Treatment Growing

Chargers cheerleaders wages

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Prior to the San Diego Chargers season opener, California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez called on the team to begin paying its cheerleaders at least the minimum wage for the upcoming season.  Gonzalez, a long-time friend of labor and building trades union supporter, previously wrote a bill requiring professional sports teams to pay cheerleaders as employees, making them eligible for the minimum wage and sick leave, and forcing their employers to reimburse them for expenses.  The bill passed in May but does not go into effect until January 1st, meaning that the cheerleaders will not be required to be treated as employees but for one game this football season.

The Charger Girls are currently classified as independent contractors, earning $75 a game. They are not paid for practices or promotional events and are required to pay for expenses that come along with their duties.  On their behalf, Gonzalez is asking the Chargers to classify them as employees as soon as possible. Gonzalez told KPBS:

“It’s a simple thing, it doesn’t cost a lot of money for these billion dollar owners to treat women with the same dignity and respect that you’d treat the guy selling you beer.”

Gonzalez’s victory has inspired 13 New York lawmakers and six from other states to call on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for league-wide action. One of the lawmakers, state Sen. Diane Savino, was quoted by the New York Daily News as saying, “It is outrageous the conditions that these young women are being forced to work in.”

Via conference call, former Oakland Raiders cheerleader Lacy Thibodeaux told reporters:

“The teams make millions off of the calendars that we shoot and the images that they use for marketing.  They didn’t even have the decency to pay us for the hours we spent shooting the images let alone anything from the actual products.”

The Oakland Raiders cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against the team in January of 2014.  Thibodeaux, the main plaintiff in the lawsuit, claimed that the cheerleaders earned wages of less than $5 an hour and were not paid on time.  This lawsuit, along with a handful of others, led to Gonzalez’s successful bill in California.  

Gonzalez, along with New York Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, mentioned the lawsuits in a New York Times op-ed last weekend:

In just the last two years, professional cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals have filed wage theft lawsuits against their respective teams, alleging labor violations including misclassification, meaning that some cheerleaders were treated as independent contractors, not as employees, and therefore didn’t receive the wages or benefits they deserved. (So far, the Raiders and Buccaneers have settled lawsuits by agreeing to pay more than $2 million in back wages.)

These recent complaints reveal a pattern of abuse, including failure to pay in a timely manner or at all, failure to reimburse for mandatory expenses or to adhere to basic requirements under state labor laws, and unlawful deductions from earnings, including penalties for minor infractions such as forgetting pompoms.

Gonzalez and Rozic further argued that, “we shouldn’t have to pass special laws and file lawsuits to get the N.F.L. to do the right thing.”  The league’s earnings are staggering, really:

In 2014, the N.F.L. had estimated revenues of more than $9 billion, and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, has a stated goal of reaching $25 billion by 2027. Most of that revenue goes to the teams, which now have a combined estimated value of $46 billion, according to Forbes. The league’s least valuable franchise, the St. Louis Rams, is worth well over $900 million.And many of those teams benefit from public largess.

Even the Dallas Cowboys — at $3.2 billion, the nation’s most valuable sports franchise — got $325 million in tax-exempt public money to help build its new stadium, which opened in 2009. Nice work if you can get it.

Compared with those numbers, the cost of paying N.F.L. cheerleaders even a minimum wage would amount to little more than a rounding error.

Read the entire op-ed here.


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