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 likethey shout to the rhythm of thunderous music and a parade in minimalist costumes.
What do we want? Unionization! When do we want it? Now!
On this alluring picket line, Velveeta comments live on Instagram the parade. This dancer from Chicago 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.
They take a big part of our income and our dance tips and in addition we also had to tip the disk jockey and the security guard.
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. »
Unsustainable working climate
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 the customers of the Star Garden. 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 customers.
The work climate had become unsustainable, according to Regan.
” They didn’t kick customers out at the end of the evening. And when I told management about it, they made jokes that I was going to be murdered. »
I came back the next day to the workplace and the boss told me that I was being fired.she added.
The tenants, who made no comment on the subject, would have hired a few dancers to replace the strikers.
Even after more than 7 months on strike, the strippers are keeping 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 reported more than 30 violations of the bar’s health and safety code in the city of Los Angeles, filed a request to form a union with the Council national labor relations.
If the election is won and certified by the board, the workers will be unionized and affiliated with theActors Equity Associationwhich represents theater actors, stage managers and professional actors.
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. »
Kate Shindle is president of theActors Equity Association.
We have a lot in common and we already have contracts with provisions to protect these workers.
Unionization on the rise in the United States
That’s in tune with the times, according to John Beck, an assistant professor in the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations at Michigan State University.2022, there were 541union elections that affected 43000 workers in the United States.”,”text”:”In the first half of 2022, there were 541 union elections affecting 43,000 workers in the United States.”}}”>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 in 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 case is being reviewed.
Which means strippers will have to be patient, because not only is getting an employer to agree to bargain a collective agreement complicated, but first and foremost they’ll 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 reduce the extent of the fight.
A first in the United States
In 1996, dancers from the Lusty Lady, a bar in San Francisco, managed to unionize by buying the club as a cooperative. But, in 2013, the trade finally closed its doors, unable to resist the competition, which did everything, according to the dancers of the time, to crush the cooperative.
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 registered strip clubs across the country that are part of a more than $7 billion industry.
A complicated idea to sell
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 complicatedsays AM Davies, who was an exotic dancer for 20 years.
Since a road accident three years ago which caused the amputation of part of her left leg, she has been an activist in Strippers United which works in favor of the unionization of those which it calls theSoldiers of pole“,”text”:”Soldiers of pole”}}”>Soldiers of polethe soldiers of the post.
” Many strippers don’t understand the difference between being an independent employee or contractor, and those who do don’t necessarily want to be classified as a union employee. »
So there is a lot of work to be done on their perception of status which may be distortedshe adds.
Ready for a long fight
But, for now, the strippers are holding their strike, thanks to a fundraising campaign that has still brought them $50,000. The sacrifice is worth it for Velveeta: “Seeing what is happening here is like a dream come true. I always wanted to be a union dancer, it’s just amazing to be one of those who will make it happen.
While Velveeta and his acolytes meet next weekend for another disruptive parade, the brand OPEN of the bar is still lit, but this corner of the boulevard has emptied.