No one needs to tell Oakland Raiders fans about hard times. After back-to-back years in which the team lost 24 of 32 games, its "Commitment to Excellence" motto is a foggy memory. With its string of nonwinning seasons now stretching back to 2003, its legendary catch phrase -- "Just win, baby" -- sounds like a desperate plea.
But the cruelest blow of all came about three weeks ago, when even the cheerleaders turned on the team, filing a class-action lawsuit claiming labor violations.
Yes, a couple of Raiderettes have called the boss on the carpet, alleging the team with the lousy win-loss record is also lousy cheap to some of its employees.
Lacy T. and Sarah G. (last names withheld to protect their privacy) have enlisted Oakland attorney Sharon Vinick to seek damages on behalf of the 40 women who wiggle and dance on the sidelines, citing failure to pay minimum wage for the hours that all that wiggling and dancing necessitates. (Not all of the Raiderettes support the suit.)
The Raiderettes receive $125 per home game -- $1,250 for the season -- but they say that translates to less than $5 an hour (minimum wage is $8) when the twice-weekly rehearsals, multiple charity appearances and calendar photo shoot are included. What's more, they say, they get no mileage reimbursement for travel to assignments, and they're fined for bringing the wrong pompons to rehearsal.
Hey, we've all walked out of the house with the wrong pompons before.
The Raiderettes' compensation makes for an amusing contrast to the piles of money the organization dumps on its players, often ill-advisedly. Running back Darren McFadden made about $9.6 million in salary and bonuses last season, and he sat out six games with injuries. Sebastian Janikowski cashed in about $4.9 million, and he missed nine of his 30 field goal attempts.
Remember former quarterback JaMarcus Russell? He collected $36 million for playing in just 31 games. Rumor is he slept through practice and never brought any pompons.
Vinick thinks this lawsuit is the first of its kind in the NFL -- of its 32 teams, 26 have cheerleading squads -- but it might not be the last. "There are certainly some other teams, perhaps all of them, that have similar problems with how they do this," she said.
Teams are tight-lipped about this subject. A San Francisco 49ers spokesman cited company policy in declining to say how much 49ers Gold Rush cheerleaders are paid.
The reason the case emerges now, Vinick said, is that her first client, Lacy T., had previously worked as a cheerleader for the Golden State Warriors, who paid her for all hours worked and reimbursed the expenses she incurred. In her first season with the Raiderettes, she quickly noticed the arrangement was much different.
The suit seeks damages for only the past four years because that's all the statute of limitations allows, but Vinick thinks a settlement could mean as much as $10,000 to $20,000 per cheerleader. She said she's still waiting to hear from the Raiders, who have declined to comment publicly.
"We're trying to get the pay the women should have been paid and weren't," she said. "There also are enhanced wages and penalties available in California."
The Raiders' picture is pretty bleak. They're desperate to be competitive. Now they're under cheerleader attack. Imagine how management must feel.
Just wince, baby.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.