Starbucks and Amazon have been dominating news coverage around the country’s recent wave of union organizing efforts—most recently, Starbucks made headlines after announcing that its new medical travel reimbursement benefit, which will help fund abortion access for employees, is not guaranteed for unionized workers. But workers in other industries, employed at smaller companies, have also joined the national labor rights movement—including, as detailed in a story out last week from Buzzfeed News reporter Otillia Steadman, strip club dancers. 

Steadman follows a group of dancers employed at the Star Garden, a strip club in North Hollywood, who staged a walkout and launched a campaign to unionize after alleging that managers Yevgenya and Stepan Kazaryan “created unsafe working conditions—leaving them exposed to sexual assault and other health and safety hazards while limiting their access to security guards—and retaliated against them when the dancers raised concerns.”

Steadman’s piece touches on two obstacles to labor organizing that I haven’t seen mentioned in other stories. One challenge is that workers hired as independent contractors, like rideshare drivers, hair stylists, and strippers, are disqualified from unionizing their workplace even if they work in the same establishment and report to the same employer every day. 

California passed a bill in 2019 that requires many gig workers, including strippers, to be reclassified as employees with greater legal protections—“but many clubs have failed to comply or created workarounds,” Steadman writes.

Another hurdle is privilege: most of the Star Garden dancers are white and college-educated, Steadman reports, which “highlights questions about who has access to such remedies and how to serve those who remain on the fringes.”

From the story:

Privileged workers, with more choice about where they work and greater access to resources, have been at the forefront of union politics in recent years, leading the charge in the Starbucks union movement and pushing for unionization in classically white-collar professions like journalism and architecture. But those workers can only organize colleagues their employers have already hired.

At the Star Garden, questions about privilege and what it means to leverage that are especially potent. The majority of the dancers at the club are white, and three dancers say the Kazaryans have not hired any Black dancers after reopening in 2021.

Steadman provides a nuanced look into not only the efforts of the Star Garden dancers—who, like organizers in other industries, are rejecting the rhetoric that mistreatment, sexual harassment, and safety hazards simply “come with the job” and are to be expected and accepted—but also the frustration of groups like independently contracted workers and workers of color, who have been blocked from even joining the fight.

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