On Thursday, 30 stripper dancers employed at the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar filed a petition with the NLRB to hold an election regarding them being included in the Actors’ Equity Association. According to Deadline, if the dancers somehow win the election, workers at the Star Garden will only be the only strippers in the United States represented by a union. The stripper’s union would then become an affiliate of the Actors’ Equity, which represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers employed in live theater. It won’t be the first time that dancers have sought union recognition, as Deadline points out that in 1996, strippers at San Francisco’s Lust Lady organized the Exotic Dancers Union.
When discussing the strippers union, Actors’ Equity President Kate Shindle revealed that she has had many conversations with those involved in the industry and specifically spoke about the hardships many of the dancers face in their work.
“Strippers are live entertainers, and while some aspects of their job are unique, they have much in common with other Equity members who dance for a living. In my conversations with them, these dancers reported consistent compensation issues — including significant wage theft — along with health and safety risks and violations. They want health insurance and other benefits, like workers’ compensation. They need protection from sexual harassment, discrimination, and unjust terminations. Equity is well situated to advocate for these workers, and we are excited to welcome them into the labor movement at this extraordinary time. We applaud their efforts to seize their collective power and unionize, like so many others across the country who are fed up with toxic workplaces. When they approached us for support, we did what unions should do: We said yes.”
The strippers union campaign began when the Star Garden’s security guards reportedly failed to protect dancers from threatening and abusive behavior from patrons. Dancers began picketing outside the club in response to the lack of action from those in charge of the Star Garden club. The protests have also been reportedly sparked after the club fired two performers. Fifteen dancers have been locked out of working inside the club since the protest began, and an unfair labor practice complaint has been filed against the management of the National Labor Relations Board. The union proposes that dancers who have been locked out of the club should be allowed to vote on the issue.
While there is movement, the strippers union has a huge mountain to climb. Many U.S. stripper locations classify dancers as independent contractors rather than full-time employees. As CNN points out, organizing independent contractors into a single union brings a lot of legal hurdles to overcome. According to Labor Department statistics, while one-third of government workers belong to a union, 6.1% employed by businesses are union members. Successful union efforts from Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, and others may have been what inspired the group of dancers to start their own union effort. CNN reported that employees from the video game company Activision Blizzard even joined the Street Garden dancers during their early protest outside the club in solidarity.
A rally in support of the strippers union will be held outside of Equity’s North Hollywood offices on Friday. A statement sent by Strippers United said they stand “in solidarity with the Star Garden dancers. ” The strippers union is just one of many unions that have come out since the pandemic in response to what Cedric de Leon from the University of Massachusetts Amherst calls “social inequality.” Workers around the world are starting to see the benefits of unionizing to protect themselves from further issues that stemmed from the pandemic. A new strippers union would join the likes of the first video game workers union that was also recently approved. The world is certainly changing, and for the better.
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