Column: Raiderettes Strike Back

In January 2014, two former NFL cheerleaders filed a class-action wage theft lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders. The suit accused the NFL team of breaking multiple state labor laws, like failing to pay minimum wage, withholding wages for months and refusing the reimburse cheerleaders for their business expenses.

September 2014 saw the team hand out a $1.25 million settlement. At the time, this was their second victory. The first happened in July 2014, when Oakland all but admitted their fault when it gave the new cheerleading squad contracts with triple the usual pay.

This month, 90 former Raiders cheerleaders, or Raiderettes, received payment from the settlement. Women who were part of the squad for several season received more than $20,000 each.

The suit claimed the Raiderettes were paid just $125 per day and denied overtime pay despite nine-hour workdays with no lunch break. The squad was also docked pay for small, silly infractions like wearing the wrong shade of nail polish.

Easy fix – the Raiders should issue the squad bottles of nail polish, to ensure everyone has the same shades -— but that’s not the most pressing issue.

Multiple NFL  teams have had to settle these employment lawsuits, like Buffalo, Cinncinati, New York and Tampa Bay.

In a statement, the Raiderettes attorney Sharon Vinick said her clients have been reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses and paid the equivalent of minimum wage for the hours they worked.

“It is important to note that paying these women minimum wage doesn’t represent the value that these hard-working women bring to the Game Day Experience.”

The overarching problem is that women in cheerleading and dancing roles are still being treated far below their worth.

While I have no dance experience, I have many friends who danced from the time they could walk all through high school, some into college. It’s hard work. It’s grueling. People are nitpicking every move, every blink and every part of a dancer’s body.

It takes years and years to build the skills and experience to be able to compete, and gain, a position dancing professionally. Being a “starving artist” is real, even when employed as a dancer by the NFL, apparently.

Rehearsal is long and mandatory, and while the performance is exhilarating -— a live, televised performance for thousands of fans — is it really worth it when one isn’t making enough to get by?

I understand these jobs aren’t meant to be full-time, benefitted and salaried positions. However, given all the time invested and skills needed to gain this position, these women deserve to be compensated fairly for their skills, because dancing is a skill.

If I got a job, where I was expected to work for long hours with no lunch break, I’d quit before I started. But the problem is, most dancers and creative types are often so starved for roles of any kind, they end up taking gigs that compensate poorly just to make a little money. Hiring managers shouldn’t be putting employees in this position. Having a position of power does not mean people should exert that kind of power over others.

These women are already being treated as walking, talking advertisements for the sports team. They are a highly visible, extremely popular representative of the team. Dance squad members are often expected to make a variety of community appearances throughout the season, which don’t pay. If someone pays to have the cheerleaders at an event, the attending dancers would make some money. However, many teams require members to make a certain number of unpaid appearances which limits their income potential. This problem speaks to another problem in line with unfair pay – continuing to pay cheerleaders meager wages further enforces the idea that women are objects and are not humans with equal rights like everyone else. Women are still paid less than men for the same job, and the gap widens with women of color.

The good news is the former Raiderettes have been taken care, and it looks like future Raiderettes will be too.

In July 2015, California passed a law stating cheerleaders must be classified as employees, ensuring at least the minimum wage.

The NFL advertises it’s cheerleaders as the best in the business – let’s pay them like they are.

Tess Fox can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos


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