Los Angeles – The 15-month effort by dancers employed at the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in North Hollywood, Calif. to gain union recognition and become the nation’s only unionized strippers ended today in complete victory.
"If you have been following our journey, then you know this has been a long, exhausting fight, which is why this victory is so sweet,” said Reagan, one of the Star Garden dancers. “We put everything we have into this campaign, and we were fortunate to have the support and solidarity from the club’s patrons, our allies and friends, the labor movement and our union, Actors’ Equity Association.”
Lawyers representing the owners of the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in a settlement hearing with union attorneys withdrew all election challenges, agreed to recognize the union and will meet with Actors’ Equity Association across the bargaining table within 30 days to negotiate a first contract. The club also will reopen for business and bring back dancers who were dismissed last year.
As a result of the settlement, the National Labor Relations Board, after a six-month delay due to the employer challenging the eligibility of some voters, will count all the votes this week and is expected to certify Actors’ Equity Association as the bargaining agent for Star Garden’s dancers.
Dancers working with lawyers and union representatives will now prepare to bargain a contract.
“I’m excited that all of my beautiful coworkers will finally have a seat at the table and a voice to discuss safety and other issues,” said Sinder, another Star Garden dancer. “This is a big day for us and dancers everywhere.”
This also is a first for Equity, a national labor union representing more than 51,000 actors and stage managers in live entertainment. The century-old union is affiliated with the AFL-CIO labor federation and renowned for representing members working on Broadway and on tour; on stages at Walt Disney World; as well as in dozens of smaller houses and prominent regional theaters across Southern California and around the country.
“Strippers are live entertainers. While some elements of their job are unique, they are essentially performance artists, and have a lot in common with other Equity members who dance for a living,” said Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle. “Every worker who wants a union deserves a union. 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.”
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.
“This is not just a win for the dancers at this club, but the entire strip club industry, said Lilith, a Star Garden dancer. “Strippers who want to unionize their workplaces and have a voice in the way their clubs are run now have a clear path forward.”
The spark that ignited the unionization campaign was lit in March of 2022, when the club’s security guards repeatedly failed to protect dancers from threatening and abusive behavior from patrons. Dancers were illegally fired for bringing concerns about safety and security to management. With the assistance of Strippers United, a 501(c)3 organization led by strippers that advocates for strippers’ rights, Star Garden’s strippers began picketing outside the strip club to protest unsafe working conditions. Picketing continued every week through November outside the club’s location on Lankershim Blvd., in North Hollywood.
Last August, the dancers announced they had affiliated with Equity. Shortly afterward, the national union filed for an election with the NLRB on behalf of the dancers. In the fall, the labor board conducted an election by mail. A vote count was scheduled for November, but the results were put on hold by the NLRB due to employer objections and legal filings. The NLRB was scheduled to hold a hearing this week over the employer objections. That hearing is now unnecessary and has been canceled.
Star Garden’s owners also had tried to use the bankruptcy courts as a means of circumventing the union election. As part of its settlement with the union, the employer will work through the legal system to dismiss the bankruptcy, and the club will reopen within 30 to 60 days of the bankruptcy dismissal. “We’re looking forward to having a productive relationship with the club that benefits dancers and also helps the club to thrive,” said Shindle.
As part of the settlement, both sides agreed that when the club reopens, the club’s security firm doesn't have to be dismissed. At the same time, the agreement stipulates that no security guards who worked at Star Garden in the past can be assigned to Star Garden going forward.
“I am looking forward to working with the club owners to rebuild Star Garden into a thriving, inclusive business with a healthy work environment that serves the community,” said Velveeta, a Star Garden dancer.
Star Garden’s dancers are not the first strippers to seek union recognition. Strippers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady organized the Exotic Dancers Union in 1997. They were affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. The Lusty Lady closed in 2013.
For more information about Actors’ Equity Association please visit www.actorsequity.org.
ACTORS' EQUITY ASSOCIATION, founded in 1913, 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). Member: AFL-CIO, FIA. www.actorsequity.org #EquityWorks
May 16, 2023