NFL cheerleaders train long hours for a minimum ten games (two exhibitions, eight regular-season), and nothing is guaranteed. Teams consider cheerleaders "independent contractors," which means they are paid on a game-by-game basis.
A group of 19 lawmakers from California, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania hope to change that.
Here is a segment of a letter written by the legislators to Roger Goodell advocating for cheerleader entitlement to the minimum wage:
Over the past year, the National Football League has been making headlines due to a series of wage theft lawsuits that have been filed by professional cheerleaders against their respective teams. To date, cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals have filed lawsuits alleging minimum wage violations. These class action complaints outline a system of abuses against cheerleaders including but not limited to failure to pay in a timely manner, reimburse for mandatory expenses, adhere to the notice and record keeping requirements under state labor laws, and penalties for minor infractions with unlawful deductions from earnings.
As you may know, legislation has been signed into law in California and introduced in New York that addresses these widespread wage theft cases. We write to you as this rampant misclassification of professional cheerleaders has come to the attention of legislators across the country where the issue of “employee” vs. “independent contractor” has been brought into question in various workforce sectors.
Cheerleaders' rights is a growing topic of discussion in the NFL, as present and former cheerleaders lash out at their treatment–sometimes in the form of lawsuits.
This July, California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez actually added "cheerleaders for professional teams" to the definition of employees. Governor Jerry Brown signed the state labor law, which should apply to the 49ers, Raiders and Chargers.
New York Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and State Senator Diane Savino, two of the 19 letter signers, introduced similar bills to Gonzalez's document in the Empire State.
— Senator Diane Savino (@dianesavino) September 9, 2015
A closing statement in the letter reads:
Over the past years, the NFL has had to address cases of sexual assault and domestic violence. Each of them resulting in negative headlines suggesting the League’s lack of support for women. With women currently making up 45% of the League’s fan base, it is clear that there is opportunity now to take a stance on issues that hinder economic and social progress in a nation that has come far in the fight for fair wages and equal rights.
The NFL season kicks off Thursday night when the Patriots host the Steelers.
Here's more background from 2014 report on HBO's Real Sports: