Many clubs have traditionally classified dancers as contractors or lessees in business for themselves. Critics of this model argue that the clubs’ influence over hours and pay rates reflects an employment relationship, and that the clubs have illegally denied dancers the basic protections of employment, like a minimum wage, overtime pay and the right to unionize.
In 2019, California passed a law that effectively required many companies, including strip clubs, to classify workers as employees. But some strippers argue that while employment status offered them more benefits and protections in principle, employers responded by putting dancers out of work or by pocketing more of their earnings by claiming a large portion of the revenue they brought in above the minimum wage.
Laws that lead to employment status “can be historic and significant for those who benefit, but not necessarily everyone benefits,” said Ilana Turner, a former dancer and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota whose research focuses on strip club workers. Many performers who may have a harder time finding work to begin with — including Black, trans, disabled, larger and older dancers — say they had fewer opportunities to work after the law was enacted, she added.
Mariah Grant, the former director of research and advocacy for the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm, said unionization could be a significant step forward but added, “I have concerns about the fact that it’s a mostly white-led effort.”
The dancers have acknowledged the issue and said they had long been concerned about racial discrimination at the club. In an online message in the fall, the Star Garden dancers said they were “committed to speaking up when we witness racism in and around our community.”