The first strip club in the process of unionization in the United States
Unionization in the United States is experiencing a new wave of popularity. And among the sectors that we would not necessarily have thought of are the strip bars.
Velveeta parades in front of the Star Garden
For the past few months, Los Angeles strippers have been campaigning to become the first union dancers.
It's a real spectacle on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. Dancers in undress parade in the street to the sound of music from the disco era. Usually, these topless strippers stir up desires in the club right in front of her, the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar. But since last March, these thirty or so women have been taking turns on the weekend picket line, because they are on strike.
This is what solidarity looks like, they shout to the rhythm of booming music and a parade in minimalist costumes. What do we want? Unionization! When do we want it? Now!
In this alluring picket line, Velveeta provides live Instagram commentary on the show. This Chicago dancer had been performing at the Star Garden club for 5 years. Until she was fired by the tenants. Today, she denounces more than ever the working conditions which had become deplorable within the bar, according to her.
Velveeta is proud to be part of this union movement in strip bars
They take a big part of our income and our dance tips and in addition we had to tip the disk jockey and the security guard as well.
According to her, this kind of practice is widespread in the industry.
“Sometimes you went home with less than minimum wage. In some clubs you even have to pay a fee to dance and the strippers often walk away with negative income.
— Velveeta, fired dancer
Regan was also kicked out of the bar a few months ago. Today on the front line to become a unionized dancer, she is very proud to see that these demonstrations have scared away Star Garden customers. The parking lot adjoining the bar is indeed empty on this Friday evening. The bar would have, according to the strikers, lost up to 90% of its clientele.
Regan parades every weekend in favor of unionization and is quite happy to scare away customers from the Star Garden.
The work climate had become unbearable, according to Regan.
“They didn't kick customers out at the end of the night. And when I told management about it, they made jokes that I was going to be murdered.
— Regan, dancer and activist
I came back to work the next day and the boss told me I was being fired, she added.
The tenants, who didn't made no comment on the subject, would have hired some dancers to replace the strikers.
Even after more than 7 months of strike, the strippers keep their spirits up and the atmosphere is rather good-natured on the picket line. But the stakes remain very serious, according to Velveeta, in particular that of diversity in the profession. This bar is extremely racist, they have never hired black dancers. We want to incorporate anti-racism and anti-discrimination protections.
A few weeks ago, the Star Garden dancers, who denounced more than thirty violations of the bar's code of City of Los Angeles Health and Safety, filed a petition to form a union with the National Labor Relations Board.
If the election is won and certified by the board, the workers will be unionized and affiliated with the Actors Equity Association, which represents professional theater actors, managers and actors.
Velveeta is one of the dancers leading the fight to unionize Star Garden strippers in Los Angeles< /p>
An option that has become obvious in Velveeta.
“We provide important service, emotional support to clients, compassion, and in a sense we are healers. We are also entertainment professionals, artists on the stage. »
— Velveeta, dancer and activist
Kate Shindle is president of the Actors Equity Association. We have a lot in common and we already have contracts with provisions to protect these workers.
It's in tune with the times, according to John Beck , assistant professor in the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations at Michigan State University. In the first half of 2022, there were 541 union elections affecting 43,000 workers in the United States.
Unionization votes have taken place, among others, within large companies such as Starbucks, Walmart or even Amazon.
Professor Beck is therefore not surprised by the process of unionizing strippers of Los Angeles, but there will be many obstacles. When employers fire union activists, they do so because they know it will take a long time for them to get their jobs back while the labor relations file is being considered.
The Star Garden is the subject of a labor dispute with its “topless” dancers
Which means strippers will have to be patient, because not only is getting an employer to agree to negotiate a collective agreement complicated, but first and foremost they will have to win a vote in a union ballot. “Employers routinely break the law by intimidating workers just before a unionization vote,” says John Beck.
Moreover, if they ever manage to bring the union back into the bar, in addition to a possible collective agreement, what they will earn retroactively will be the estimated salary lost during the dispute, minus the money they will have earned elsewhere during this time. . Which makes him say that some dancers risk leaving for other jobs and will lessen the extent of the fight.
In 1996, dancers from the Lusty Lady, a bar in San Francisco , had managed to unionize by buying the club as a cooperative. But, in 2013, the business finally closed its doors, unable to resist the competition, which did everything, according to the dancers of the time, to crush the cooperative.
Star Garden bar dancers supporters lend a hand to strikers
Thus, Star Garden could become the first unionized strip club in the United States.
And pave the way for the potential unionization of nearly 4,000 strip clubs registered domestically that are part of an industry worth over $7 billion.
But, easier said than done and before even getting there, you also have to convince dancers that unionizing is the solution to their problems. It's very complicated, says AM Davies, who was an exotic dancer for 20 years.
AM Davies, who worked in strip bars for 20 years, has been active with Strippers United ever since she suffered a car accident that cost her part of her left leg three years ago. /p>
Since a road accident three years ago which caused the amputation of part of her left leg, she has been an activist with Strippers United, which works for of the unionization of those she calls the Soldiers of pole.
“Many strippers don't understand the difference between being an employee or an independent contractor and those who do don't necessarily want to be classified as a union employee.
— AM Davies, activist
So there is a lot of work to be done on their perception of status which may be distorted, she adds.
But for now, the strippers are holding their strike, thanks to a fundraising campaign that has brought them $50,000. The sacrifice is worth it for Velveeta: “Seeing what is happening here is like a dream come true. I've always wanted to be a union dancer, it's just amazing to be one of those who will make it happen.”
As Velveeta and her bandmates meet at the next weekend for another disruptive fashion show, the bar's OPEN sign is still on, but this corner of the boulevard has emptied out.