Women Champion Higher Pay, Better Benefits for NFL Cheerleaders

Tired of hearing about NFL cheerleaders being subjected to “jiggle tests” and being auctioned off to the highest bidder, all for less than California’s minimum wage, a California woman, a legislator who is a former college cheerleader and labor organizer, has decided to try to do something about it.

Another California woman has launched an Internet petition campaign calling on all NFL teams to raise the pay of their cheerleaders.

California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D) has introduced Assembly Bill 202 to treat cheerleaders of professional sports teams as employees under California law. It is a move that she believes will better protect “cheer athletes” in the state from workplace abuses and bring equity to the multibillion-dollar professional sports landscape.

"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.

It’s not like the National Football League is hard up for money. Declaring poverty does not seem an option.

The NFL never releases its annual financial data. But it is believed the league rakes in more than $9 billion a year. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in 2010 he expected the league to reach $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027.

“If the guy selling you the beer deserves a minimum wage, so does the woman entertaining you on the field. All work is dignified and cheerleaders deserve the respect of these basic workplace protections,” she added.

Gonzalez’s legislation would affect only cheerleaders who work for NFL teams in California: the San Francisco 49ers, the San Diego Chargers, and the Oakland Raiders.

However, another California woman, Diane Todd, is running a change.org petition drive calling for all NFL teams to pay their cheerleaders a living wage, which could be more than $2 an hour higher than the state’s minimum wage. The living wage in California for an adult with a child would be much higher than that, $22.70 an hour, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

Gonzalez and Todd said their initiatives follow action already taken by several NFL cheerleading squads that have sued their teams because of low pay and what the cheerleaders’ attorneys call “mistreatment.”

A former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader who sued the team said her pay averaged out to less than $2 an hour.

NFL cheerleaders do work long days, especially on game days, for a flat rate that ranges anywhere from $100 to $150. Practice sessions are usually unpaid and many teams force cheerleaders to do team promotions for free.

Todd wrote in her email seeking support for the petition drive that a cheerleader’s pay in the National Football League is usually less than the guy who dresses as the team mascot.

“In fact, while NFL Cheerleaders do have some opportunities for outside appearances, many of these skilled athletes make less than $1000 per year. Comparatively, an NFL Mascot can make as much as $65,000 per season,” Todd wrote.

“And while some NFL teams have recently moved in the direction of paying Cheerleaders minimum wage ($9 per hour), the NFL pays Concession Stand Workers $12-$18 per hour,” Todd also wrote. “Being an NFL cheerleader isn’t a hobby; for many, it’s their dream come true. The selection process for the few slots on each squad is highly competitive and each member is required to have highly specialized dance and athletic skills.”

Do you like the NFL team calendars that feature cheerleaders? Some teams don’t pay their cheerleaders to pose for those calendars. They do allow the women to buy the calendars and sell them, allowing them to pocket any profit. But if they can’t sell the calendars, the cheerleaders are stuck with the loss.

Buffalo Bills cheerleaders, known as the “Jills,” filed suit against the team charging “demeaning and degrading treatment” like being auctioned off at golf tournaments then being forced to spend the day riding around in a golf cart with the highest bidder.

The Jills also alleged they were subjected to a weekly “jiggle test” in which they had to do jumping jacks while team officials examined the way their hips, butts and breasts bounced.

Gonzalez’s legislation would explicitly require that professional sports teams provide cheerleaders with the same rights and benefits as other employees, protecting against the sort of financial and personal abuses that have been reported throughout the country.

It would raise the base pay of the cheerleaders who work for NFL teams in California to California’s minimum wage of $9 an hour.

"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?" Gonzalez told Mother Jones. "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.”

The  NFL is named as a second defendant in the lawsuits filed by cheerleaders against their teams, and has always maintained that cheerleader pay and treatment is up to each team.

Paul Secunda, a professor of labor law at Marquette University, told Fortune the way cheerleaders in the NFL are treated is  “giving the league a black eye. There’s no need for them to act this way.”