Sally Alvarez, co-director of the New York State AFL/Cornell Union Leadership Institute at the Worker Institute at Cornell University’s ILR School, comments on the U.S. Labor Department’s ruling that the Oakland Raiderettes are seasonal employees, and therefore exempt from federal minimum-wage laws.
“The ruling by the U.S. Labor Department that the Oakland Raiderettes are seasonal employees demonstrates the difficulty for huge numbers of U.S. employees who are outside of the protections of U.S. labor law. American labor law is among the most restrictive anywhere in the world in excluding workers from basic protections on wage and working conditions.
“The Labor Department ruling that the Oakland Raiderettes are seasonal employees does not prevent the cheerleaders from suing in state court under the California minimum-wage and labor laws, because California labor law does not include an exception for seasonal employees.
“Also, there is no explicit exemption for seasonal workers under the National Labor Relations Act, so cheerleaders still have an opportunity for organizing. Cheerleader squads might engage in other types of worker actions like demonstrations, public hearings, or alliances with entertainment unions and women’s groups, which could pressure teams to improve their treatment. The public relations and sponsor pressure could be a huge liability for the sport and could ultimately be more significant than any federal ruling.
“This case also raises a question about the gender differences between the entertainment workers. These women make considerably less compensation for their time and efforts than other seasonal or contract employees who are in other positions with the team, such as mascots, team assistants or marketing assists. Are those other jobs customarily gendered and are the people who hold them subject to contracts as restrictive and punitive as the one for cheerleaders?”