As a modern labor movement spurs efforts to unionize across the country, from Starbucks to Trader Joe’s to Amazon, one group of laborers is looking to create a more equitable workplace: Strippers. Dancers at the North Hollywood club Star Garden have officially moved to host a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. If approved, the dancers would join the established actors union Actors’ Equity Association, which represents nearly 51,000 professional actors and stage managers.
“Every worker who wants a union deserves a union and should be able to have the protections of fair wages, safe working conditions, benefits and a workplace free from discrimination and harassment and wage theft and all of the things that the Star Garden strippers are telling us they’ve experienced,” Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle says in an interview with Los Angeles Times. “So this feels like the right thing to do.”
The Star Garden groups’ efforts began back in March when the dancers brought complaints to management about the lack of protection from aggressive and abusive customers, who grope, hit, and grab them. In April, the dancers submitted a complaint with Cal/OSHA describing various physical and environmental hazards, adding up to more than 30 alleged violations. Since then, they’ve been picketing outside the business and pleading their case to potential patrons.
“We like what we do,” a dancer by the name of Velveeta tells Deadline. “We would like our jobs even more if we had basic worker protections. We’re like so many other workers who have learned that it’s not a choice between suffering abuse or quitting. With a union, together, we can make needed improvements to our workplace.”
The dancers at Star Garden would be the first strip club to unionize since 1996, and the only one to currently exist in the U.S. Over 25 years ago, San Francisco’s Lusty Lady organized the Exotic Dancers Union, which was associated with the Service Employees International Union up until the club closed in 2013.
The road to unionizing within strip clubs has been partially paved by a 2018 landmark ruling by the California Supreme Court, which changed club dancers’ employment classification from contractors to strip club employees, W2s and all. Although, when it comes to actually implementing the ruling, club owners have found runarounds for the classifications, or ignored the charge altogether.
As far as next moves, a rally will be held in support of Star Garden’s dancers at Equity’s North Hollywood offices at 6:30 p.m. Friday, followed by a picket line at Star Garden Topless Dive Bar.