While football fans are getting ready for the Super Bowl this weekend, California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has turned her attention to the women on the sidelines. Gonzalez, a former cheerleader and labor leader, introduced a bill today that would require California’s professional sports teams to classify cheerleaders as employees, thus forcing teams to provide minimum wage, paid overtime, and workers compensation.
The bill was inspired by a spate of lawsuits last year in which NFL cheerleaders sued their teams for workplace violations. The first lawsuit, Lacy T. et al vs. The Oakland Raiders, exposed a “stunning system of abuses against cheerleaders,” says Gonzalez, including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid practices and appearances, and fines for things like bringing the wrong pom-poms to practice. According to an ESPN the Magazine article, a Raiderettes handbook simply says that it’s possible to “find yourself with no salary at all at the end of the season.” (Read more of our coverage of the indignities of NFL cheerleaders here, and of NHL’s ice girls here).
“NFL teams and their billionaire owners have used professional cheerleaders as part of the game day experience for decades. They have capitalized on their talents without providing even the most basic workplace protections like a minimum wage,” Gonzalez said in a statement. Reached by phone, she added, “Nobody would never, ever question that the guy who brings you beer is going to get minimum wage, but we’re not gonna pay the woman on the field who’s entertaining you?” Asked whether she was concerned about pushback from NFL teams, she replied, “I don’t think it’s a good PR move for the NFL to be opposing minimum wage for women’s workers. Let’s be honest.”