"When they finally announced the victory, I was, like, bawling," dancer and union organizer Reagan (her stage name) told the CBC. "Just a sobbing mess."
Safety first? Reagan told the CBC that dancers weren't allowed to ask security guards to intervene when customers harassed or threatened them. Rather, they had to take their concerns to management, who would decide whether intervention was needed. But the club’s managers fired those dancers who complained. And security guards had their hands tied because they too had to get the heads up from management to intervene if customers were too “rowdy”.
Regan went on. "There's this very strange situation of a middleman when we're in a small club and there is alcohol at this club, and sometimes patrons are drunk and they're acting disorderly and they're acting out of line…It got to a point where it really became intolerable." Dancer Stoney Stonee said, "Customer misbehavior often comes in the form of physical assault. When customers become intimidating and physically aggressive towards us, we depend on the Club to intervene and protect us."
According to the Associated Press, Dancer Lilith said customers were also allowed to stay in the bar after closing, which made the dancers feel unsafe because patrons could see them dressed "out of our stripper personas" and identify which cars they drove when they went home. Regan was fired when she complained about this policy.
In March 2022 the dancers presented to Star Garden’s owners, Yevgenya ‘Jenny’ Kazaryan and Stepan ‘Steve’ Kazaryan a petition demanding an end to retaliatory firings and bad club policies that put their safety at risk. Jenny told them they would have a meeting but instead the dancers were locked out, which resulted in them contacting Actors' Equity Association. They contacted Actors’ Equity because strippers are exotic dancers and performance artists and they have a lot in common with Equity members who are professional dancers. The association then filed for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) guild election on their behalf.
In the petition, the dancers stated that Star Garden:
- Punished and fired dancers for asking the Club to take basic steps to protect our safety and privacy in the workplace, in violation of the National Labor Relations Act as well as Cal-OSHA regulations and other laws that protect workers.
- Prioritizes customers’ desire for entertainment over dancers’ health and safety.
- Fired coworker Selena for intervening when a customer was filming a dancer without her consent.
- Fired Regan fired after she asked the club not to allow customers to linger in the club after closing, because it was compromising dancers’ safety and privacy.
- Fires dancers without warning
- Does not provide copies of contracts or a handbook explaining Club’s policies, which seem to change from day to day.
"Every worker who wants a union deserves a union," Actors' Equity Association President Kate Shindle told CBS. "The Star Garden dancers have been absolute warriors throughout this long process, and I'm thrilled that we've won recognition of their rights to safety and democracy in the workplace and representation at the bargaining table."
Exotic Dancers and Future Plans
In a press release, Actors’ Equity said that, “Dancers at Star Garden and other strip clubs routinely have issues with health and safety as well as compensation, including wage theft. Like workers in other occupations, they want health insurance and other benefits. And probably more than most, they need protection from sexual harassment.
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And Lilith, another Star Garden dancer, is forward-thinking. “This is not just a win for the dancers at this club, but the entire strip club industry…Strippers who want to unionize their workplaces and have a voice in the way their clubs are run now have a clear path forward.”
Actors Equity Association was founded in 1913, and is the U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers. Equity endeavors to advance the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions and providing a wide range of benefits (health and pension included).