NPR logo

2-4-6-8, A 401(k) Would Be Great: Calif. Law Makes Cheerleaders Employees

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/423740617/423740618" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
2-4-6-8, A 401(k) Would Be Great: Calif. Law Makes Cheerleaders Employees

Sports

2-4-6-8, A 401(k) Would Be Great: Calif. Law Makes Cheerleaders Employees

2-4-6-8, A 401(k) Would Be Great: Calif. Law Makes Cheerleaders Employees

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/423740617/423740618" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that bars professional teams there from treating their cheerleaders as independent contractors. The bill came after lawsuits alleged the cheerleaders were underpaid.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Next, a story about how cheerleaders are treated by professional sports teams. Not well is the short answer from many cheerleaders. Over the past year, many have sued National Football League teams for wage theft. And now partly in response to those lawsuits, a new California law went into effect this week. It gives cheerleaders the same protections as all other employees. Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

MAROON 5: (Singing) Sugar, yes, please.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: This video on the Oakland Raiders website shows women auditioning for the team's cheerleading squad, the Raiderettes. They're hoping to dance their way into the spotlight of a league that rakes in well over $10 billion a year.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I just made the team.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I'm so excited.

ADLER: But many pro sports cheerleaders say there's a dark side to their profession. Last year, the Raiders settled a class-action wage theft lawsuit filed by Raiderettes who said the team failed to pay them minimum wage and violated other state labor laws. The Raiders now face other suits as do the league and several other NFL teams.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAITLIN YATES: Professional cheerleaders for any team are controlled to an incredible degree by their teams.

ADLER: That's Caitlin Yates, a five-year Raiderette who's suing the team and the NFL, testifying before the California Legislature this past spring.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YATES: The teams control our outfits, makeup, hair, routines, nails, tanning, et cetera. They even tell us who we can talk to or have relationships with.

ADLER: And that means they should be treated as employees, but not all of them are. Some pro sports teams pay their cheerleaders a flat rate for each game and don't pay them for practices or other public appearances. Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez says her bill will classify them as employees so they would need to be paid by the hour and have access to benefits like workers' compensation.

LORENA GONZALEZ: I think there is this gut reaction that, like, is this something serious? But when you look at the entire game-day experience, there's only one set of workers who aren't being given the very basic dignity and respect, and those happen to be all women in this very male sport. You know, there's something there.

ADLER: There was no outside opposition to the bill in the California Legislature. And the lawyer who's represented the Raiders in their class-action suit declined to comment. But at a more recent hearing on the bill, Republican State Senator Jeff Stone noted that the Raiders paid more than a million dollars to settle that suit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF STONE: So the existing remedies already exist in law. You just have to file them. I just have strong concerns about the state intervening in private contractual relationships. That's something I don't think we should do.

ADLER: The new law takes effect in January. For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.