Star Garden, a bar in North Hollywood, advertises itself as a “topless dive”—the type of place that offers “hot girls and cold beer.” Now, following months of protest in which its strippers brilliantly dressed as their bar’s poor working conditions and OSHA violations, the Garden’s dancers are on the verge of establishing the second strippers’ union in U.S. history (the first, notably, since 1996).
Yesterday, the dancers announced that they’ve filed paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board and seek to join Actors Equity Association, a labor union representing actors and stage managers in the theatre industry. “On the picket line since March, these workers face so many of the same challenges that Equity has faced in theatre: making stages safe for dancers, protecting dancers from unauthorized photos and videos and discriminatory hiring practices,” they wrote.
Lilith, a dancer at Star Garden, told Jezebel via phone call that the partnership was a “no-brainer” once they realized, after several months of protest, that they would require formal assistance with their campaign to unionize. “We ended up reaching out to Actors Equity, and they approached us with like, the absolute best attitude that we could have ever asked for,” she recalled. “They immediately were incredibly pro-sex worker, pro-what we’re doing and what we’re asking for in our workplace, and they agreed that strippers are like any other professional performer and deserve all the same protections that other performers get.”
“Strippers are live entertainers, and while some aspects of their job are unique, they have much in common with other Equity members who dance for a living,” AEA President Kate Shindle agreed in a statement.
The dancers’ protest of the club, which began on March 18, was prompted by the Garden’s alleged Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations (there’s more than 30 of them)–ranging from insect and rodent infestations to broken materials that could seriously injure them–and management’s decision to terminate two dancers in response to respective incidents.
In early March, two dancers who perform under the names Reagan and Selena raised separate security concerns–the first, being that a particular client had begun waiting for Reagan at the end of her shifts. In April, she told Jezebel that she felt he’d become “possessive” of her, and she told the manager on duty. When she arrived for her next shift, she says she was asked not to return.
It was reported that Selena was fired after involving security when she noticed that a customer was filming a dancer without their consent. “It became very clear that they [management] had absolutely no concern whatsoever for the dancers’ safety,” Reagan told me. “It just became really scary and intolerable.”
The dancers have also claimed that management had instituted a policy that security guards couldn’t intervene if customers harassed dancers, without approval from one of the club’s owners first.
Lilith said the dancers hope to vote to unionize in the next month or two, but in the meantime, they’ll continue their highly-publicized picket—which recently saw an appearance from the founder of Amazon Labor Union, Chris Smalls—and will hold a rally with Actors Equity this Friday.
“We would love to escalate our picketing to really show our force, and it has become a lot more possible with Actors Equity because they can bring out some numbers that we haven’t had on the picket line before,” she said.
Though management has remained silent on the protest, Lilith said an overwhelming number of patrons have shown their support, even attending the protest on a weekly basis. “We have some patrons who have been there every single week, every single picket. There’s one in particular who has been more pickets than I have, and I’ve been to most of them,” said Lilith. “It’s been a big example to our bosses that the customers come to the clubs for us, and when we’re outside the club, they continue to come for us, not the $12 beer.”
While they’re not the first dancers in the country to successfully unionize—in 1996, the Lusty Lady became the first as the Exotic Dancers Alliance (SEIU Local 790)—a win for the dancers at Star Garden will likely ensure that they won’t be the last.