Cheerleaders now considered employees

Growing up individuals have dreams and aspirations of what they want to have as a job in their future. For Sache Thompkins and other cheerleaders who had similar intentions, the job that they found themselves passionate about was not the best financial choice for them.

Thompkins has been cheering for about 17 years now and always wanted to become a professional cheerleader until she saw the income that they received when she was a senior in high school in 2013.

“For the longest time I wanted to be a professional cheerleader because I always thought it was so cool so I thought why not make it my career, until I got older and realized that they aren’t paid as much as professional athletes or any of the other professions and they work just as hard,” said Thompkins.

Cheerleaders who cheer for professional sports teams not only do not get the coverage that the athletes they are cheering on get, but they also do not match anywhere near the income. Prior to this year, professional cheerleaders were not making as much as minimum wage which means the individuals were being paid less than the lowest legal amount required by law. In fact some professional cheerleaders have claimed that they were paid less than minimum wage per year.

“You can’t make a decent living off of that. So most cheerleaders work other jobs on top of their own commitment,” said Thompkins.

In 2013, minimum wage employees would be making about 300 dollars weekly with the pay rate being at eight dollars an hour. The thought of not even having a secure 300 dollars weekly forced Thompkins to let go of the dream job.

Making less than minimum wage does not allow an individual the ability to be independent with food and gas prices escalating. The income influenced Thompkins’ career choice when she came to the understanding that although it was the profession she desired, the income was not enough.

Mid last year Governor Jerry Brown became onboard with the Assembly Bill 202 that former Stanford cheerleader, Lorena Gonzalez, was pushing to pass.

Tweeted photo by @LorenaSgonzalez

Tweeted photo by @LorenaSgonzalez

The bill she was in favor of would treat professional cheerleaders as employees of California which would prevent them from being underpaid for their dedication to their careers. The bill was passed on July 15, 2015 and came into effect this year. In result, the act that was added to the Labor Code relating to employment as section 2754.

Section 2754 defines a cheerleader as, “an individual who performs acrobatics, dance, or gymnastics exercises on a recurring basis.”

Former Colony High School in Ontario cheerleader Megan Moriya cheered throughout her high school years and believes that professional cheerleaders deserve to get paid the same numbers that other professional athletes such as MLB or NFL players get paid.

“I think cheer has always been underrepresented in the sports dynamic,” said Moriya.

Cheerleader’s glamour is what is typically focused on and the work that is put into preparing for their performances is not always taken into consideration compared to other competitive sports.

The financial negatives were eventually brought to larger attention in 2014 by former Raiderette, Lacy T. who does not reveal her last name for security reasons. The once Oakland Raider cheerleader sued the Raiders for failing to pay the cheerleaders for the hours they worked.

The lawsuit states, “The Oakland Raiders, in flagrant violation of numerous laws of the State of California, fail to pay those women who work for them as members of the Raiders’ cheering squad (who are referred to as “Raiderettes”) for all the hours that they work each season.”

The Raiderettes were not treated nowhere near state employees as their meal breaks were not honored and the Raiders failed to pay them on time as well as failed to meet other employment requirements such as not reimbursing them for “certain business expenses.”

The Raiderettes eventually won the court case that Lucy led which resulted in a 1.25 million dollar lawsuit.

Assembly Bill 202 acknowledges cheerleaders as state employees to guarantee that they receive fair pay. The act would, “require a cheerleader who is utilized by a California-based professional sports team during its exhibitions, events, or games to be deemed an employee. The act would also require the professional sports team to ensure that the cheerleader is classified as an employee.”

An individual must meet the act’s requirements of cheering for a team that is in the minor or major league for basketball, baseball, football, ice hockey or soccer. It also states that individuals must be affiliated with a California-based professional sports team and “is utilized during its exhibitions, events, or games no more than one time in a calendar year.”

These requirements protect individuals cheering for professional California sports teams and allow them to be treated justly and paid for all of the time and work that they put forth.

Thompkins knows from experience what it is like to endure the pain that is felt through the work that is essential to be successful as a cheerleader.

“They [cheerleaders] are pushing their bodies to the limits and they are not getting paid for the amount of damage that they doing to their body,” said Thompkins.

Although the bill was only recently passed, it could open the doors for individuals considering to pursue professional cheerleading as a career that they could solely depend on as their source of income. It might even cause preference to cheer in California due to the fact that the Assembly Bill 202 is only effective in California.

If this law was in effect when Thompkins was thinking about her future career she believes that she may have considered it more seriously. As she reflects back to her high school years, she believes that her mentality at the time would see minimum wage as a positive start. Since that was not the case for her at the time, she had to change her plans to ensure that she would be financially stable. She then thought about the health concerns that eventually come with being a cheerleader.

“As I get older my body can’t really take all the damage that has been done to it so I decided to pursue a career in business where I plan to open up my own competition for competitive cheerleading. It’s my way of staying around the sport I love for the rest of my life,” said Thompkins.

This assembly bill could have majorly impacted Thompkins’ life decision. Thompkins stated that had it been in effect when she was contemplating what she wanted to find herself doing as her future job, it could have led her on the cheerleading journey she yearned for. Although it may have come into effect too late to have a positive impact for Thompkins, it could be beneficial to other individuals interested in cheerleading.

In addition to cheerleaders having a bill passed in their favor to help secure their financial needs, minimum wage also went up to ten dollars an hour in the state of California on January 1, 2016. This bill, Assembly Bill 10, was approved by Governor Brown in 2013 and has secured the minimum wage increase of nine dollars an hour in 2014, and now ten dollars an hour in 2016.

When calculated for the year, the gross income for an individual making minimum wage working at least 40 hours a week is 20,800 dollars.

If the employer fails to pay their employee minimum wage, the employee “can either file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (the Labor Commissioner’s Office), or file a lawsuit in court against your employer to recover the lost wages,” according to the State of California Department of Industrial Relations.

Ten dollars an hour may not seem like a tremendous escalation, but it is an action that will help individuals that are currently cheering for California based professional sports teams. Not only will it help secure the financial needs of the individual’s cheering, but it will also protect their rights as employees of the state.

With the new 2016 bills regarding labor protection in effect, there is a more positive light to cheerleading professionally for sports teams. Although Thompkins was forced to go a different route than she intended, the assurance of receiving no less than the lowest legal amount permitted in the state can influence individuals to to pursue cheering as a career choice.


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