California took an important step earlier this week, passing a bill that will provide cheerleaders with greater protection under employment laws. AB 202 will classify cheerleaders as employees for purposes of minimum wage, unemployment and employment discrimination laws.
It covers cheerleaders who perform for a team that plays a majority of its home games in California. For now that would cover the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers (I don't know if the three hockey teams or two soccer teams utilize any kind of cheerleaders). The St. Louis Rams would join this group if they move to Los Angeles.
This also covers cheerleaders who are utilized by a California sports team either directly or through a labor contractor. One big issue (and one that is an issue across the labor spectrum) is the listing of cheerleaders as independent contractors. That has afforded teams the ability to pay them less than if the cheerleaders were listed as "employees".
Similar legislation was introduced in New York earlier this year, but has not yet been passed. California becomes the first state to pass such legislation. You can read the full text of the law below.
Cheerleaders have been involved in a variety of lawsuits across the country in recent years. Oakland Raiders cheerleaders were paid $1,250 for a recent season ($125 per home game), but were not specifically paid for practice time, and charity and commercial appearances. A lawsuit on behalf of cheerleaders from 2010 to 2013 recently netted a $1.25 million payment.
The Buffalo Bills reportedly did not pay their cheerleaders at all, and required them to cover costs for uniforms, hair and makeup. Six cheerleaders are claiming in their lawsuit that they were told it was a privilege. Cheerleaders have also been told the exposure they get can open up opportunities in modeling and other fields.
The opportunities are certainly a plus, but there should be a legal obligation to compensate cheerleaders for the time and effort they put in. This bill will hopefully push this forward, at least in California for now.
The 49ers released a statement earlier this year when AB 202 first got into the news. They said they "would be in full compliance with the bill if it were law today." Those comments would seem to indicate the 49ers pay the Gold Rush the necessary wages to comport with California employment law.