Most of us don’t work in exchange for perks. Instead, we agree to pay that equals at least the minimum wage and expect to be paid for hours worked. Unless, of course, you are a cheerleader. Recent lawsuits brought against several NFL teams are shedding light on the alleged exploitation of women who are employed as cheerleaders.
(Photo Credit: leduardo/Flickr)
Back in the 1920s, cheerleading for professional football players was strictly a volunteer position. High school and college cheerleaders would come together for the opportunity to support their team, have some fun, and get to cheer on a big stage. People who did not come to see the games listened to games on the radio, and could not see the cheerleaders.
When television became a common household appliance, fans could watch the games from home. According to ESPN, football team managers started to opt for flashier cheerleaders at this time, but they were still volunteer positions. In 1972, Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm dismissed his volunteer cheerleaders and hired young women to dance in skimpy outfits and paid them a meager salary. By 1976, these women were the stars of calendars and posters, and were making public appearances for the benefit of the team.
The employers keep getting richer off these women’s labor. In addition to the proceeds for cheerleader memorabilia that stay in the team’s pockets, collective bargaining has enabled the players’ salaries to skyrocket. Recent lawsuits, however, have brought to light the fact that not only do the cheerleaders not profit handsomely from their own labors, they end up making less then minimum wage.
Perks Are Not Pay
Alumnae have leveraged the perch to find work as fitness instructors, dance studio owners, reality TV stars, even Playboy models… Others find stability in the sports world through other means, like Paige Green, a Raiderette-turned-model who went on to marry John Elway.
Marrying rich isn’t exactly a career path, and Playboy model and reality TV star are occupations with a short shelf-life, but fitness instructor and dance studio owner are good jobs that pay. Still, should the NFL be able to “pay” cheerleaders with the promise that they will be more likely to get a job after they leave they leave the squad?
Job perks are not pay, and the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division does not consider getting to marry a football player as appropriate compensation for hours worked.
Since filing their own lawsuit, the Buffalo Jills operations have been suspended. Their allegations are worse than those of the Raiderettes, including sexual harassment and just plain bizarre exploitation. Jills have to undergo a “jiggle test” before being allowed to perform, and there are also allegations of being required to sit on men’s laps at charity events. This “work” was required for less than minimum wage.
According to the IRS:
You are not an independent contractor if you perform services that can be controlled by an employer (what will be done and how it will be done). This applies even if you are given freedom of action. What matters is that the employer has the legal right to control the details of how the services are performed.
Raiderettes are classified as “employees,” but the Jills are not. It’s hard to believe that the Jills meet that definition of “independent contractor.”
Tell Us What You Think
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Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Raiderettes were also classified as independent contractors.