The strippers seize the moment, turning a lockout into a picket line

Lbone Aangels, VSalif.—On a rainy night in March, a picket line of cat ears, purple wigs and neon yellow ski masks marched past Star Garden, a dinky topless dive bar in North Hollywood. A masked protester broke into a chicken dance under the club’s cheap red lights. Another held a bright sign reading “We don’t feel safe” in curly letters. Drivers honked their horns as they passed, sending cheers through the crowd. As magical as the night seemed, there’s nothing fancy about the Star Garden Strippers’ protests: sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.

At the end of April, Star Garden strippers voted to unionize with Strippers United, a labor organization I founded in 2018. They will become a new union created entirely for and by strippers, which will operate independently of the traditional union bureaucracy. On May 3, the Star Garden strippers asked their employer to resolve their ongoing labor dispute through a card verification agreement, which stipulates that Star Garden will bring the strippers back to work with protective measures. appropriate security and will voluntarily recognize Strippers United as their union.

The last time strippers decided to organize was in 1996 in San Francisco. As a nude dancer live there, I voted alongside my colleagues at the Lusty Lady Peepshow to become the Exotic Dancer Alliance (SEIU Local 790). We got a contract that included regular pay raises, anti-discrimination and grievance policies, and the removal of the one-way window that violated our security and privacy. The triumph of Our Lusty Lady re-enacted the grim landscape of American labor, where union membership had dwindled. the San Francisco Chronicle shouted, “The sex industry is ripe for unionization. I assumed that, like me, strippers at other clubs would believe that unionization was imminent. Instead, the opposite happened.

For too long, strip clubs have cultivated dangerous, racist and precarious working conditions. Although strippers make up a massive and diverse workforce, we have few protections in an unregulated workplace plagued by social stigma. Club owners make money by charging strippers while claiming that dancers are “renting space”. But strip club owners are do not owners; they are our employers. Dancers do not owe club owners “rent” for dancing on a stage, using the restroom, or dancing for customers.

For 25 years, I wondered how many muggings, rapes, and shootings it would take for strippers to have even the basic protections a union could provide. In the case of the Star Garden Strippers in North Hollywood, the last straw was a host of threats to their collective safety.

For “Tess” (all dancers named were given false names to protect their privacy), one of the Star Garden strippers on the picket line, her safety was compromised in a number of ways. “As a woman of color, I was led to believe it could be worse, like I should be grateful that I didn’t die.” She described a scenario in which a customer slapped a stripper and the stripper slapped him back. This dancer was fired.

On February 23, when she arrived for work, the “Reagan” dancer was arrested in the parking lot of the Star Garden. She was fired for worrying about her physical safety the previous week.

Ten days later, Star Garden dancer “Ava” was told about a new safety rule. Instead of asking security guards for help, even in emergency situations, strippers were instructed to wait for a chance to speak to management. Ava was alarmed. “I’ve seen borderline assaults, non-consensual videotaping of dancers by patrons, and men so drunk from being overserved I found them in the women’s restroom,” Ava said. The next day, another Star Garden performer, “Selena,” opened up about the non-consensual shooting. She got fired.

On March 18, the Star Garden Strippers delivered a signed petition calling for the rehiring of Selena and Reagan, as well as improved security procedures at the club, but the owners were not on site and refused to meet with them in person. band. That night, all of the dancers scheduled for Star Garden walked out knowing they would return to work and discuss the petition in person. When they returned to work, they were locked out. Since then, they have been picketing.

Star Garden Strippers has had enough.

The locked-out Star Garden Strippers are unionizing, and they’re doing it with a sense of urgency. As Reagan said, “It was really dangerous. Something had to be done – and fast.

Club owners have gone to ridiculous lengths to avoid classifying their workers as employees: forcing strippers to sign bizarre contracts, arbitration agreements and NDAs before their shifts; requiring strippers to hand over all money earned for the first ten dances; steal half of their tips and call it a “chair fee”, a “dancing tip” or even “making wages”. The methods they use to extort strippers are as inventive as they are illegal, but it’s been going on for so long that it’s been normalized. Strip club owners have also become good at driving division among strippers. But at Star Garden, according to Reagan, “there was a culture of togetherness, helpfulness and a level of trust”. Stripper-organizer “Velveeta” also sensed potential: “The cohesion between us seemed really strong and presented a real possibility of unionization.”

“Stoney”, member and organizer of Strippers United, knows that the battle has only just begun. “Preventing a club from fostering this toxic environment and making people dangerous,” she told me, “is probably the most noble job I will ever be involved in.”

Star Garden Strippers is building an arsenal of support. They raised more than $20,000 in donations and filed five unfair labor practice complaints with the NLRB. Some members have become Teamsters OSHA certified and have filed complaints for over 30 OSHA violations, from cockroach infestation to fostering an environment where employees are blamed for unwanted touching and harassment client. When asked why they chose to unionize with Strippers United instead of approaching more established unions, Velveeta said: “In the longer term, a union of strippers for strippers holds the power. to revolutionize the industry.”

Mainstream unions, mainstream feminists, and many other progressives have underestimated the organizing power of strippers. Maybe they believe that strippers will fail or that the sex industry shouldn’t exist at all. They are wrong. Strippers are taking their place in the new labor landscape, alongside Christian Smalls, Derrick Palmer and the Amazon Labor Union organizing team. And just like them, the Star Garden Strippers plan to win.

Back on the picket line, “Charm” leaps towards two guys approaching the main entrance to Star Garden. She hands them a flyer with a QR code for donations to help keep the strikers afloat. A bearded security guard with a gun on his hip sits on a stool, arms crossed, staring at Charm. Potential customers walk away from the club. Velveeta encourages them to support the strippers and the crowd cheers. That night, and every night for the next five weeks, the Star Garden dancers turn away far more customers than the few who dare cross the picket line. The drizzle becomes rain. Black umbrellas appear on the sidewalk, as if fallen from above. Music blasts from a wireless speaker. The dancers twerk, as if on command. Dollar bills are thrown at them, making it rain in the rain. Velveeta smiled and said, “It’s my dream.”

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