Earlier this week, former dancers of the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in North Hollywood held a rally at the Actor’s Equity headquarters in Los Angeles, filing a petitionwith the National Labor Relations Board. The dancers intend to hold union elections in near future. Star Garden, if the union is recognized by the club, will be the only strip club that has been unionized since the Lusty Lady. first strip club to unionizeThe country closed its doors in 2013.
For almost six months, more than a dozen Star Garden dancers held a theatrical picket in front of the club. They made extensive use social media. @stripperstrikenohoFollow us on Instagram. The club still exists with dancers from other countries. Their picket is colorful and playful, creating a party-like atmosphere with props, costumes and themes such as “Witches and Wizards,” “French Revolution” and “Star Garden’s OSHA Violations” as they attempt to discourage customers from crossing the picket line. The dancers are striking against unsafe working conditions inside the club and management’s refusal to address their concerns.
The dancers report that they were told not to approach security directly with concerns about a customer’s behavior, no matter how egregious. They were instructed to notify a manager first even though they were rarely present at the club. They were told that security would need management’s approval to intervene in the event of a misbehaving customer. Managers were also informed. Did It was usually to punish the dancers that a man intervened. Sinder, one of the dancers, recalls an incident in which a man pulled his panties to one side while they were performing on stage. He then pushed cash into their crotch and slapped them on the vulvae. After Sinder left the stage, they were told to take off two days. They were never scheduled to return for another shift. Reagan, another dancer was admonished by a bartender after she joked about being stalked and killed by a customer. She was told not go back. Cece was struck by a customer and rubbed her thigh. She was then told not to return for her next shift. The club’s rules prohibit patrons from taking pictures or videos of dancers while they are performing, but when Selena told a customer to stop recording a dancer while she was performing topless, management told her not to return for her next shift, calling her a “drama queen.” In March, the dancers presented management with a petition demandingThey reinstate Reagan and Selena, and implement safety measures at the club. Management is not open to listening to concerns. locked them outThe club.
Since long, racism has been a problem in the strip club industry. Clubs often refuse to hire Black performers, particularly those of darker skin. Star Garden workers make up the majority of their workforce, which is something they are very conscious of when organizing. Star Garden’s managers have for the most part refused to hire Black dancers. Bree Holt, a Black South Carolina woman, is the dancer. told Buzzfeed News that when she tried to audition at the clubSecurity guards turned her away and managers refused permission to let her onto the stage. “I’ve been shut down by white clubs before,” Holt said. “[The manager] judged me by looking at me.”
Two strikes by strippers in recent years were inspired by racism in the industry: Gizelle Marie’s 2017 strike in New York City and Cat Hollis’ strike in Portland in 2020.
These strikes helped to position strippers as workers that were entitled to workplace protections. They also contextualized sex worker rights within a growing labor movement. They didn’t intend to unionize. Unionization has been controversial within the community. Many dancers have reservations about union dues and fear of being retaliated by club owners. Dancers are treated as independent contractors and non-employees. They are exempt from all the benefits and protections that an employer would provide. In most cases, they’re also required to pay the club for stage time. They might have to hand over all their money made during their shift on slow nights. California has the following laws: Assembly Bill 5In 2019, independent contractors, including strippers were reclassified as employees. However, strip clubs have instituted workarounds to maintain exploitative conditions for dancers and ensure dancers still don’t receive fair pay, like instituting extremely lengthy and onerous “house rules” with penalties for even the most minor infractions. Star Garden allows dancers to choose whether they are independent contractors or employees. For contractors, the club takes 50 percent of private dance sales; whereas employees would need to meet a $200 sales quota before being allowed to keep 50 percent of their sales — a fairly common practice in the industry. Club owners can’t blame their greed for this, but labor laws.
But this unionization effort is occurring in the midst an even greater unionizing wave, notably that of Amazon workers. (In fact, Amazon Labor Union President Chris Smalls joined Star Garden strikers at their picket line. Many people lost their jobs during the COVID-19 epidemic, or were otherwise unable pay meager wages, and took up sex work via platforms like OnlyFans. This led to a reckoning about the rights of sexworkers, as well as recognition that sex workers are workers who deserve workplace protections and living wage, rather than criminals or victims. The labor movement has also shed the image of union workers as white men in hard hats — the U.S. working class is mostly women and people of color, largely immigrants. A labor movement that is inclusive and recognizes the many ways people are workers is the best hope of gaining rights for the working-class.
On the @stripperstrikenoho account, one post addresses a common criticism of the strike, which is often delivered by hostile passersby or by misogynistic customers entering the club: “Why don’t you go work someplace else?”
They answer, “why pass down the same trauma we had to endure to the next ‘set’ of girls. Owners of strip clubs want us to be quiet. [to]Strive for better working conditions/end the trauma. we deserve to be safe no matter what our job is.”