Organizing drives sweeping workplaces across the country now include a strip club in North Hollywood. On Thursday, a majority of 30 dancers employed at the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar filed a petition with the NLRB to hold an election to be represented at the bargaining table by the Actors’ Equity Association.
If the strippers win their election and the results are certified by the National Labor Relations Board, the Star Garden workers would become the only strippers in the United States represented by a union. The bargaining unit would be affiliated with Actors’ Equity, the national union representing more than 51,000 professional actors and managers employed in live theatre.
It’s a first for Equity, but it’s not the first time strippers have asked for union recognition. In 1996, the Lusty Lady strippers in San Francisco organized the Exotic Dancers Union in 1996. They were affiliated with the Service Employees International Union until the club closed in 2013.
“The Strippers are live performers, and while some aspects of their work are unique, they have a lot in common with the other members of Equity who dance for a living,” the Actors’ President said. Equity, Kate Shindle. “During my conversations with them, these dancers reported ongoing compensation issues – including significant wage theft – as well as health and safety risks and violations. They want health insurance and other benefits, such as workers’ compensation. They need protection from sexual harassment, discrimination and unfair dismissal. Equity is well placed to defend these workers and we are delighted to welcome them into the labor movement by this extraordinary time. We applaud their efforts to seize their collective power and organize, like so many others across the country who are tired of toxic workplaces. When they reached out to us for help, we did what the unions had to do: we said yes.”
The organizing drive began in March when club security guards reportedly failed to protect dancers from threatening and abusive behavior by patrons. Dancers there, with the support of Strippers United, a non-profit organization that defends the rights of strippers, began picketing outside the club to protest unsafe working conditions.
“We love what we do,” said Star Garden dancer Velveeta. “We would love our jobs even more if we had basic worker protections. We are like so many other workers who have learned that it is not a choice between being abused or quitting. With a union, together we can make the necessary improvements in our workplace.
An Instagram post from a few months ago shows Reagan, a woman identified as “a Stripper Strike NoHo organizer and a Star Garden dancer”, speaking to a crowd about the threats she received from the share of club customers and more.
Strippers United said in a statement: “Strippers United stands with the dancers of Star Garden as they join forces with Equity to form the first strippers union in over 25 years. We are thrilled and proud to see this next step take place, and Strippers United will be in close contact with these fierce workers as their journey continues.
A rally in support of the Star Garden dancers will be held outside the Equity offices in North Hollywood at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Next, members of Shindle and Equity will join the Star Garden dancers on the picket line at the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar.