Strippers Fight For Labor Rights -- And Start To Win

strippers labor rights fightBy Emily Jane Fox

Sonja worked as a stripper in three states for 15 years.

Like any employee, Sonja had set hours, had to be on stage at a certain time and dress a certain way. She was penalized if she missed a shift.

But like most strippers, Sonja wasn't considered an employee. That's because club owners typically classify strippers as independent contractors.

It lets bosses get away with not paying employment taxes, not complying with discrimination laws and not offering benefits such as health care or retirement plans, according to Robert Woods, a tax lawyer in San Francisco. In turn, workers do not qualify for unemployment benefits. They might also miss out on Medicare and Social Security benefits if they don't properly withhold those taxes.

It's a situation that Sonja and other strippers are increasingly challenging in court. The 37-year-old from Brockton, Mass., has won two court settlements in the past two years. She is awaiting the outcome of two more.

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As independent contractors, strippers' income comes solely from tips. Often, club owners' long list of fees take a big bite out of that too.

Hima B., a former stripper in San Francisco who is working on a documentary about strippers' labor rights, paid a $5 "stage fee" for a six-hour shift when she started working in 1992. Within months, the fee jumped to $25. By the time she stopped working in 1999, she was paying $200 per shift. It's commonplace for club owners to levy such a fee.

"You should be paid to work. You shouldn't pay to work," said Hima B., who like Sonja and the other strippers in this article, asked that she be identified by her stage name.

Sonja also paid stage fees, and more -- $80 for showing up late, $25 to dance one song and $60 for a half-hour in a private room. Some strippers also have to pay DJs and other overhead costs such as rent.

"They're making tons of cash charging girls to work," Sonja said.

Cases like Sonja's are picking up steam. Just last month, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that dancers at Club Orleans in Topeka were employees rather than contractual talent. It granted them the right to collect unemployment insurance.

This followed another ruling in November, when strippers at the Spearmint Rhino chain in California won a $13 million settlement in a federal court class action case that granted them employee status. The settlement amount will be divided among strippers across six states.

"We've seen a lot of great rulings like these," said Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney who specializes in labor cases.

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In the last 10 years, Liss-Riordan has been involved in a dozen cases like Sonja's, who she represents. She has either won or reached settlements in favor of the strippers in at least half of them and the rest are still pending.

There are other professions where employees work for tips or have to pay for a spot -- like waiters and hairdressers. The difference is that these workers also earn wages.

"Strippers, on the other hand, are buying a job," said Liss-Riordan. "To have money taken away from them is a sad state of affairs."

Some strippers have organized to fight back. Workers at The Lusty Lady, a San Francisco peep show, formed the Exotic Dancers Union in 1997. Soon after that, The Lusty Lady became fully owned and operated by its employees, who continue to vote on all business decisions.

"I get paid a little bit more than minimum wage hourly on top of my tips" said Victoria Privates, a dancer who started working at The Lusty Lady last year.

Hima B. hopes her film will inspire strippers to stand up for the kinds of rights that dancers have at The Lusty Lady.

"Stripping is legal," she said. "This is a group of workers and they deserve rights."

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Wonder How MUCH they pay in Tax's on all that money in there Garter Belt, and after that how much to leave with a friend who has a bank roll big enough to help her through the Night


March 26 2013 at 8:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A good stripper makes around $100,000 a year and has a small job that she at income tax time.

March 26 2013 at 7:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Koz's comment

My X wifes nieces ( 2 ) were Strippers, and they bragged about some nights on weekends ALONE making 4 Grand, plus the one was available for 3 Grand for a 4 Hour sleep over, and they also bragged about Paying no Tax's on it

I know first Hand what they do and how much they make

March 26 2013 at 8:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would sure like to see this one

March 26 2013 at 7:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No one put a gun to her head and made her a stripper who had to pay fees.

March 26 2013 at 2:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to globaltrekkie's comment

She's an entertainer. Just because you may not approve of her choice of entertainment doesn't mean she shouldn't get paid for what she does. Should a comedian not get paid if many do not like his off-color jokes?

March 26 2013 at 3:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

But Uncle Sam is our pimp. We all pay him to work for him. Blue collar workers should quit their jobs and start working under the table and not pay no taxes.

March 26 2013 at 1:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

1. The strippers typically are paid some relatively low wage; the vast majority of their income is tips.

2. It's probably not outrageous for the club to want some of the take on private rooms, where the girl is going to be making silly money. The club is providing the room. Now--there's another way to do that. The club can charge the customer almost anything it likes to have the private room, and the guy, probably thinking with his little head, will probably pay it. That may, in turn, affect how much the dancer gets in tips in that room--but it probably won't, because, again, he's thinking with his little head and just peeling off bills as fast as he can give them to her.

3. You may start seeing a number of clubs being bought out by their dancers. They're making silly money.

4. Many of those clubs don't care too much, anyhow--an awful lot of them are mob money-laundering operations that allow them to turn illegal money into apparently legal money.

March 26 2013 at 12:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Those girls are lying if they're claiming to only make a little over minimum wage an hour.

March 25 2013 at 11:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

SOme of these women make a grand a night. Can't feel too sorry for them. If they want to play with the big boys they better start declaring ALL of their tips and income. I am sure the IRS will be very interested in how much they actually make and what they declare on their taxes or if they have even filed.
See what happens when you fight for more rights? You just might want to wish it never happened.

March 25 2013 at 11:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to petpetdon's comment

I knew a girl once years ago who told me she made 2000 a week dancing. Now that is some crazy money .

March 25 2013 at 11:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michelle Neff

The womken are right,, what it shas been is noth90ng short of slavery! Like peopolem like to strip sop much they pay to do it-- men tink with ntheiorn little head! Women keep up the pressure! It is a Vocastion and takes a lot of artictic talent. Men are such perverts they will pay for anything.

March 25 2013 at 11:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rosa Parks

free enterprise means you are free to sell your soul to earn a buck. wether its bayer peddling hiv infested drugs or cheney/bush packaging and selling fear to drum up support to invade a country so halliburton and other corporations could make billions of dollars while tax payers not only footed the bill (trillions) but also paid with the lives of their family members. yeah capitalism maximize them profits baby!

March 25 2013 at 10:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Rosa Parks's comment

I sleep sooooo good at night knowing all libs and dems are soooooo caring of other people and are never self-serving. Just look at Wiener, Rangel, Gore, Biden.....oh, wait.....never

March 25 2013 at 10:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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