(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic) has introduced legislation that would require professional sports teams that play the majority of their games in New Jersey to give their cheerleaders the same work benefits and protections provided to team employees.
Eustace said the bill is in response to complaints from cheerleaders throughout the country that professional sports teams have required cheerleaders to sign contracts designating them as independent contractors. Because of this designation, employers could ignore provisions of law which many hourly wage employees benefit from, such as requirements for minimum wage, workers’ compensation, and temporary disability benefits.
“These are multi-million dollar organizations. Surely they can afford to provide the cheerleaders they employ fair wages and workplace benefits,” said Eustace. “Professional cheerleaders are not asking to be paid what the athletes on the field are getting; just what is fair and equitable. Many of them are earning less than minimum wage. Given what is expected of them as part of their job duties, I don’t see how anyone could think these wages are appropriate or adequate.”
The wage disparity came to light after an Oakland Raiders cheerleader filed a lawsuit claiming she was paid less than $5 an hour as a Raiderette. More lawsuits followed against other NFL teams, revealing how prevalent the pay inequity was for professional cheerleaders in professional sports. According to one media report, contracts for some teams paid only $125 a game, and required cheerleaders to meet a list of conditions regarding conduct. The women were required to attend rehearsals, practices, charitable events for no additional pay, and had to pay to clean their own uniforms. Those who showed the slightest weight gain were swiftly benched, again with no pay.
Eustace’s bill would extend certain employment protections to professional cheerleaders who work for professional sport teams that play the majority of their home games in New Jersey.
Specifically, the bill would require that cheerleaders who are utilized by professional sports teams during their exhibitions or games, be deemed employees for purposes of the New Jersey labor laws, including the laws governing minimum wage and hours, the time and mode of payment, workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, temporary disability benefits, family temporary disability leave, civil rights protections, and the gross income tax.
Under the bill, professional cheerleaders are individuals who perform acrobatics, dance, or gymnastics exercises on a recurring basis that is affiliated with a professional sports team. Professional sports teams are teams at either a minor or major league level in the sports of baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, and soccer that play the majority of their home games in New Jersey.
“Those who argue that working for an NFL or NBA team affords these women opportunities that make up for their low wages are missing the point,” added 27stace. “As independent contractors, the workplace protections for these women are limited, and these organizations know that. This bill would ensure that these women are fairly compensated and protected under New Jersey’s labor laws by requiring professional sports teams to designate cheerleaders as employees.”