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Careers, Good Business

Stripper Bill of Rights


Why We All Have Skin in the Game

Strip Clothes, Not Rights

Imagine working for a company that charged YOU to clock in every day. Your boss doesn’t just make you pay to work, he also skims off the top of your paycheck. Before you clock out for the day, would you mind giving a portion of your hard-earned money to each of your coworkers? I should mention that the job has no benefits, no paid leave, and no worker's comp. Oh, and if Creepy Bill the next cubicle over decides to get a little handsy, tough luck. HR and OSHA are just a jumble of letters to this place.

Chances are, you don't have to experience this nightmare scenario because you're protected and recognized as an employee or a member of a union. You've got it good, relatively speaking.

Strippers, on the other hand, haven't had it so easy. Most have been subjected to a long history of codified scamming and wage theft by the clubs they work at, and have battled against a many-headed hydra of exploitation.

Not So Independent

Dancers have operated under the guise of independent contractors for years, despite being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it by the clubs they bring in revenue for. These clubs frequently charge a "house fee" which performers are required to pay upfront for stage time. As if that weren't enough, many clubs also demand that their dancers share a large portion of their tips for the night with other club staff like DJs, bartenders, and security, leaving many of them walking away in the red.

But it's not just money that's being stolen from a swathe of hardworking laborers. Because strippers aren't seen as "employees", they have virtually no recourse against discrimination, harassment, or abuse in the workplace. Strippers of color or trans dancers have long been given short shrift when it comes to stage time and often aren't hired at all. Clients who grope or grab are often invited back in, discrediting the workers whom they assault. Dancers who get sick don't get paid leave or disability and are often punished subtly or overtly for their absence.

By skirting around the issue of employment, clubs are free of a system of necessary checks and balances. They're able to rob the very people bringing in revenue for them of their ability to negotiate and fight for their rights under the pretense of contracted work. It might seem laughably obvious to assert that strippers are central to the business model of a strip club, but according to something called the Integration Test in employment law, the more central a worker is to a business, the more likely they are to be considered an employee. It's also important to ask who has more control in the relationship, (if you've gotten this far, you know it's not the dancers).

The Road Ahead

Rightfully fed up, strippers have long been fighting for recognition as laborers just like any other and are now moving en masse to democratize their respective workplaces via unions. After a 17-month strike in 2022 and 2023, dancers across the United States are joining forces with allies like the Actors' Equity Association to advocate for better pay and more equitable working conditions.

While this may seem like a win, there's still a long way to go until strippers, and erotic laborers in general, can enjoy a safe and empowered workplace. Many clubs have started to retaliate against unionization efforts by taking subversive measures to undermine their workers' progress including removing ATMs from clubs, using intimidation tactics, and engaging in retaliatory firings.

Support Your Local Stripper

Unfortunately, the stigma that's persisted against erotic labor has created a political blindspot around the need for strippers' labor rights. The unwillingness to see sex work as "work" further perpetuates a paternalistic view that women or those who identify as women shouldn't have agency over their own bodies and capital. Society still has a hard time valuing what it views as "feminized labor". As a result, hardworking performers are exposed to unsafe conditions, theft, and an industry that's often more exploitative than empowering.

Supporting the unionization of sex work only serves to bolster the rights of everyone in our community. If we care about the struggles of other gig economy workers to get the treatment they deserve, why would we turn our backs on the oldest gig economy workers in the country? Educating ourselves is the first step in showing up as allies, along with realizing that strippers' rights are human rights. We all deserve to speak out against systemic oppression whether it comes to our bodies, our places of employment, our sexuality, or all three.

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