LA’s Star Garden dancers set to become country’s only unionized strippers
After more than a year of organizing, a group of Los Angeles dancers is on the brink of becoming the nation’s only union-represented strippers, marking a new milestone in the country’s organized labor movement.
Strippers and their supporters at Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in North Hollywood had been calling for better working conditions, pay, and on-site safety, which prompted a push to become the first group of its kind in the country to gain union recognition since dancers at the Lusty Lady club in San Francisco unionized in 1996. But for months the organizing demand was met with an ice-out by Star Garden management, which refused to engage in negotiations with the dancers.
In a Tuesday press release, the union announced that lawyers representing the owners of the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar had withdrawn all election challenges and agreed to recognize the union. A union election vote count will be held on Thursday, May 18. Once the vote is counted, the National Labor Relations Board must certify the results. Star Garden employees can then formally unionize and engage in collective bargaining with management. The dancers’ chapter would be joining the Actors’ Equity Association, a national union for entertainment workers.
“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. Every worker who wants a union deserves a union,” said Actors’ Equity Association president Kate Shindle.
“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. 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,” wrote Reagan, one of the Star Garden dancers, in the announcement.
In 2022, the group led a “Stripper’s Strike” outside of Star Garden, prompted by the bar management physically locking out a group of employees who delivered a privacy and safety grievance to the club’s owners. The dancers alleged they weren’t being protected from aggressive customers, were filmed without their consent, and were forced to deal with arbitrary job requirements as contracted employees. Multiple dancers who attempted to bring up concerns were fired.
The Star Garden dancer-led picket line attempted to push management to address their concerns and discourage patrons (and fellow dancers) from entering the club until the group’s demands were met. They joined forces with Strippers United, a national strippers advocacy organization, and sought out pro bono legal aid prior to filing with the National Labor Relations Board in August and conducting its first vote last fall, with results put on hold due to employer legal filings and objections.
The owners of Star Garden filed for bankruptcy at the time, but are expected to work toward dismissing the bankruptcy and could reopen the club within 30 to 60 days, according to the union statement. The parties have agreed to meet within 30 days to negotiate a contract.
Stripper Co-op is a project that was founded in part by some members of @stripstrikenoho, and many more have since joined its ranks in an intentionally ambitious experiment of blending the traditional “strip club”with a more progressive, egalitarian/utopian co-op model.
“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,” wrote Sinder, another Star Garden dancer, in the Actors’ Equity Association press release. “This is a big day for us and dancers everywhere.”