New California law recognizes cheerleaders as employees

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown has approved legislation recognizing California's professional cheerleaders as employees who are entitled to minimum wage and overtime.

The Democratic governor announced Wednesday that he signed AB202, requiring that sports teams employ cheerleaders as workers instead of contractors. It provides them with sick leave and overtime pay, as well as other labor protections available to team staff.

The law, which will take effect in 2016, is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation. A similar bill in New York is pending.

Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced the bill after Oakland Raiderette cheerleaders filed a wage-theft lawsuit. Gonzalez, who cheered at Stanford, said many professional cheerleaders are treated like glorified volunteers.

"We would never tolerate shortchanging of women workers at any other workplace. An NFL game should be no different," Gonzalez said in a statement.

Raiders cheerleaders were ultimately paid less than $5 per hour through a contract that did not include pay for hours of rehearsals and public appearances, Raiderettes attorney Sharon Vinick said.

Dozens of Raiderettes who worked for the team from 2010 to 2013 received a $1.25 million settlement last year as part of the lawsuit. Cheerleaders for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also received a settlement.

Attorneys for NFL cheerleaders have said that in addition to receiving sub-standard wages and little to no overtime pay, they have also been forced to foot the bill for thousands of dollars of travel and personal appearance costs.

Vinick said in a telephone interview Wednesday that though Raiders cheerleaders testified on behalf of AB202, they have always maintained that under the law they should already be considered employees and were never independent contractors.

"This is just icing on the cake," Vinick said.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league does not manage cheerleaders' employment.

"Teams are advised to follow state and federal employment laws," he said in an email.

AB202 received bipartisan support in both the Assembly and the Senate.