Strippers and California Club Reach Accord on Union After Long Fight

For much of the last year, a group of strippers at a California club called Star Gardens have faced criticism from management when speaking out, expressing concern over safety issues such as pawns and a poorly maintained stage. He also expressed concern about retaliation. The complaint prompted the dancers to picket the club and demand a vote for the union.

But last fall’s elections, which appeared to have strong support for the union, were delayed by months as both countries filed lawsuits over dancers’ eligibility to form a union. A club in North Hollywood filed for bankruptcy in the meantime.

Now, under a series of agreements that were finalized on Monday, Stargarden withdrew its challenge to the vote and agreed to work with the union, paving the way for dancers to join the organization. A 100-year-old union of actors and stage directors, Actors Equity Association. This makes them the first strip club dancers to unionize in the United States since the 1990s.

Union Chairman Kate Shindle said the victory could help advance workers’ rights in an industry where exploitation and physical harm are rampant.

“We felt we could help them,” Sindor said in an interview during last fall’s postal elections. “What we are already paying attention to in contract negotiations and enforcement are also the issues our dancers have faced, such as audience interactions, dangerous stages, broken glass, and sexual harassment.”

In a statement, Stargarden said it had “reached a resolution to all disputes” with the National Labor Relations Board, unions and workers and was “committed to negotiating in good faith with Actors Equity.” rice field. It is this kind of collective bargaining that is fair to all parties. ”

Dancers at Star Garden said they were driven to unionize by a dangerous working environment where drunken customers allowed them to grope them, as well as being banned from working in the club for voicing concerns. Some said the physical space was often dangerous, with exposed nails and holes on stage and broken glass on the floor.

“I was picked up and carried away without the intervention of security,” said the dancer, who goes by the stage name Lilith. Lilith and her other dancers asked not to reveal her legal name for fear of harassment and stalking of her.

Another dancer, who gave the name Belvita, said clubs were putting dancers at risk by allowing guests to stay after hours. “Customers will be there and see us cash out, see the cash we bring,” she said. “They could follow us to the car and follow us easily.”

Strippers picketed clubs almost every weekend in the months leading up to the election, promoting themes such as “super-class heroes” and “the French Revolution” to a growing following on social media. At one point, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello showed up to provide musical entertainment.

Pique seems to have had the desired effect. A crowd of dozens gathered outside the club for surveillance on Saturday night before the votes were scheduled to be counted in November, but no one appeared to enter or leave the club for more than 90 minutes. The club has been operating with a small number of replacement personnel for several weeks.

In December, Stargarden filed for bankruptcy.

Strippers and other sex workers have long protested working conditions and organized organizations to call for policy changes, such as mandating panic buttons and other safety measures, and decriminalizing or regulating certain activities such as sexual massage. have organized.

The activity appeared to escalate further when the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic made sex work a last resort option for some workers and raised safety concerns at the same time.

The racial liquidation following the murder of George Floyd also highlighted pervasive racism in the industry.

In Portland, Oregon, dozens of strippers discriminate against local clubs, such as hiring few people of color, forcing them to work unwanted long hours, and refusing to dance to certain types of music such as rap. started protesting against policy.

Kat Hollis, the leader of the protest, which later became known as the Portland Strippers Strike, said some clubs have come to follow some of the protests. Basic rules of the workplacebut few, if any, appear to have reformed their hiring and contracting policies.

Organizing at Stargarden began early last year after the club cut ties with two dancers in retaliation for speaking out about safety and privacy concerns. One dancer, who goes by the stage name Reagan, said she was fired after she criticized a club for not asking customers to leave at closing time, complaining that customers were becoming more possessive.

More than a dozen signatures by March 2022 petition Better safety and security, explaining to management that the workplace is “filled with aggressive drunk men who push our boundaries and often intimidate us” and refuses to serve alcohol to intoxicated customers. He urged management to take action. The dancers claim they were barred from management shortly after filing a petition seeking the reinstatement of two exiled dancers.

A lawyer representing the club said in the fall that Stargarden complied with all state and federal labor laws.

In July, the dancers met with Actors Equity chairman Shindr and other union officials. After years of largely refraining from organizing non-members, the union has begun investing in organizing non-member workers, and officials are excited about the prospect of representing dancers. Was.

“It feels like an era has come, so that era was at least 10 to 15 years ago,” Sindor says.

Workers filed a petition in August calling for a unionization vote.

The initial results of the election were inconclusive. The National Labor Relations Board allowed about 20 workers who claimed they had been locked out for months to vote, then spent months determining their eligibility.

Under a deal signed on Monday, Stargarden will drop claims that workers were never employees, but independent businessmen ineligible to vote, allowing vote counting to proceed within days. .

As expected by both parties, if the union wins, the company will seek to dismiss the bankruptcy lawsuit, but the workers, who are creditors in the lawsuit, will not oppose the dismissal. The company plans to reinstate eight employees and add the rest to its priority hiring list. They will also pay the dancers their dues and agree to begin negotiations within 30 days of the ballot being certified.

Many clubs have traditionally classified dancers as contractors or lessees of their business. Critics of the model believe that clubs’ influence over working hours and wages reflects the employment relationship, and that clubs provide dancers with basic protections of employment such as minimum wages, overtime pay, and the right to form trade unions. It claims to be illegally denied.

In 2019, California passed a law effectively requiring many businesses, including strip clubs, to classify their workers as employees. However, for some strippers, employers dismissed dancers from their jobs or took a large part of the earnings they generated, even though their form of employment generally afforded them more benefits and protection. Some argue that they responded by further privatizing the dancers’ income by charging them above minimum wage.

Laws that lead to employment status “can be historic and significant for those who benefit, but not necessarily for everyone,” said former dancer and PhD Ilana Turner. To tell. She is a candidate at the University of Minnesota, whose research focuses on strip club employees. Many performers who would otherwise have difficulty finding work, including black, transgender, disabled, and large, elderly dancers, say they have fewer opportunities to work since the law was enacted, she said. added.

Mariah Grant, former director of research and advocacy for the Sex Workers Project at the nonprofit law firm Urban Justice Center, said unionization could be a big step forward, but she said: I am concerned about the fact that the majority are white,” he added. he led the effort. ”

The dancers have acknowledged the problem and said they had long been concerned about racism in clubs.and online message In the fall, Stargarden dancers said they were “committed to speaking out if they witnessed racism in or around the community.”

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