Mark Law Firm Blog

Three cheers for… minimum wage?

Posted by Jamison Mark on Apr 10, 2015 9:49:00 AM
New Jersey Attorneys

Today’s NFL football players make between $435,000 (the minimum salary for a rookie) and $61 million per year. Want to guess how much their gorgeous cheerleaders make?

Chances are, it’s less than you made at your first job...

...Even if that was delivering newspapers for a few dollars an hour.

Professional cheerleaders in the NFL often make less than minimum wage. 

Cheerleaders work 42 weeks a year, practice several times a week, attend corporate and charitable team events, are photographed for promotional media and extremely lucrative team and league paraphernalia, and, of course, entertain fans during games with elaborate and athletic performances. Competition for spots on the squads is fierce, and making the team is considered a community honor.

But the cheerleaders aren’t technically employed by the NFL – each team has its own third-party contractor who recruits, manages, and pays the women. Each of these companies sets its own payment schedules and conduct requirements; cheerleaders are required to sign employment contracts agreeing to conditions including performance, appearance, and off-duty behavior. Some events pay for or sponsor the cheerleaders, but all payments are funneled through the third-party managing company.

Typically, the women are required to purchase and pay to clean their own uniforms and equipment (props, pompoms, etc.), have no insurance or benefits, and receive payment only at the end of each NFL season if they are paid any salary at all. Frequently, they are fined for infractions like bringing the wrong pom-poms or gaining weight; they are also often required to pay for beauty services like hair, makeup, and tanning as well as professional photographs. 

  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently agreed to pay up to $825,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by 94 cheerleaders who alleged they weren’t paid even the minimum wage. They claimed they were paid just $100 per game they had cheered -- with no additional compensation for practices, appearance, or any other time spent supporting the team other than corporate/sponsored events.
  • Pursuant to the terms of a $1.25 million settlement last September, the Oakland Raiders will now be paid California’s minimum wage of $9 per hour going forward – by the suit’s previous estimates, the Raiderettes had been making about $5 per hour. They will also be paid every two weeks, rather than having to wait until the end of the season.
  • In a pending lawsuit against the Buffalo Bills cheering organization, one plaintiff argued that she was paid $105 for a season of cheering for the Bills – approximately 12 cents per hour for each of the 840+ hours she worked.

Unlike professional players, no union protects the cheerleaders who work for third-party companies. They are covered by virtually no wage and hour or workplace protection laws; they get no breaks, aren’t protected against sexual harassment or discrimination, receive no unemployment benefits if they aren't selected to work a game, and have no worker’s compensation rights if they are injured.

Lawsuits are pending against the Cincinnati, Buffalo, and New York Jets cheering organizations, as well as against the NFL itself. The suits claim that the NFL and/or the teams are the “real” employers of the squads, based on the most typical test of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor: who has the right to control what the worker does and how the worker does his or her job. Tampa Bay and Oakland have begun paying the cheerleaders directly following the lawsuits; if the pending suits are successful, other NFL teams may start to follow suit to stave off litigation from their own squads.

Legislative remedies may help, also. In California, legislation was proposed earlier this year which would  require professional sports teams to recognize cheerleaders as their employees and pay them at least the state-mandated minimum wage. Hip, hip, hooray! 

Learn more about the Newark Equal Pay actBasking Ridge prevailing wage, and The New Jersey Prevailing Wage If you’re not being paid the wages you’ve earned, or haven’t been paid what you think you’re entitled to, the attorneys at The Mark Law Firm can help. Hiring an employment lawyer can help protect your rights! Contact us today for a consultation.

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Topics: Employment Law