Monday, April 28, 2014

Cheerleaders Are Employees

Professional sports, and in particular, the NFL have brazenly scoffed at employment laws for years and years.

Then the players unionized and started pressing for greater remuneration for the profits they were delivering to team and league owners.

Still, when backed into a corner (head injury suits by players) not only did the NFL escape any real financial consequences with a questionable settlement after years of denial in spite of their own research, but the league has sponsored workers' compensation and other employment laws that deny players any real protection for their futures - when these injuries finally manifest to significantly disabling degrees.

And the league knows it can get away with it - all one need do is read the public comments by the ignorant fan base when stories are told about players who seek compensation for their injuries.

"They knew what they were getting into," "they are paid gobs of money," - all the same old tired excuses that employers used for years to defeat attempts at fair labor laws.

Right - of course the tone changes when one knows what they are getting into when going to work on an oil platform, or working as a roofer, a firefighter or police officer.

The glorification of sports entertainment and the people employed to provide that entertainment on a large scale is no different than, facetiously of course, glorifying coal mining, or truck driving, or any other hazardous occupation...

The extent to which professional sports exploits its labor is highlighted by the recent spat of NFL cheerleaders suing their teams for wage and other employment violations.

The bottom line allegations to these law suits is that the teams didn't pay these cheerleaders for all of the time they were required to work. They allege that when all of the time is tallied up working under the direction and control of the team they were making a couple of dollars an hour.

The teams have responded, basically, that these women were independent contractors and were "volunteering" for the job.

Well, in most states as measured by workers' compensation laws (and other employment laws) the argument that the cheerleaders signed a piece of paper stating that they were independent contractors doesn't hold up very well.

An independent contractor has her own tools, shows up when she wants to, and delivers a final product or service generally not subject to the direction and control of the employer.

By contrast professional cheerleaders must wear uniforms, had to show up for practices hours at a time or make public appearances at the direction and control of the team cheerleader "coach" and undergo "jiggle tests" among other conditions of their employment.

Forget that a professional cheerleader may be injured on the job - NFL teams calling cheerleaders independent contractors are engaged in what is often decried as fraud: misclassification of workers.

We know that employer misclassification of their work force, whether intentional or not, is a major issue because it puts more pressure on the rest of the work force through employer premium to make up for the shortfall.

Not to mention states that collect premium taxes on work comp policies, assuming correct classification of workers, getting cheated out of revenue.

The trend of professional cheerleader lawsuits has more implications than just back pay.

The way the NFL has purchased legislation I would not be surprised to start seeing proposed laws to redefine what a cheerleader is and limit the availability of employment law protections to them too.

These women are hired to provide entertainment and are a critical component to the entire NFL show (and other sports entertainment), and should be compensated and provided fair employment protections accordingly.

And teams should be paying for workers' compensation coverage for them.

The fact that these positions are glorified with public appearances, fleeting fame and television time is poor remuneration without legally justifiable correlation to labor law.

These cheerleaders provide uncompensated marketing for the teams (and this spans many sports - just look at all the beer company sponsored posters for various soccer clubs in America and other nations). You can bet they signed away any rights to the use of their individual likenesses as part of their "contracts."

It is amazing to me that even in 2014 in America we have such disparity in how workers are treated, and how much we tolerate such treatment (as long as it isn't "us").

What's even more amazing to me is that such chicanery occurs in an industry where, when one really gets down to it, there is very, very little competition.

It's about time professional sports are made to play by the same rules the rest of employing America plays by.

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