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‘Paper of record’ takes deep dive into organizing efforts ‘against decades of exploitation’

Strippers are the “canary in the coal mine” of labor issues in the 21st century, according to Michael LeRoy, a labor law professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who is quoted in a lengthy New York Times report this week that takes a deep dive into the movement to organize strippers “against decades of exploitation,” according to the paper. 

Decades before the internet-driven “gig economy”—in which workers function as “independent contractors,” renting themselves out on a short-term or piece-work basis, with no benefits or even guaranteed minimum pay—strippers were going through a reclassification of their jobs that stripped them of their rights as workers.

Strippers in Atlanta, San Jose and San Francisco attempted to organize into unions in the 1980s and ’90s, according to the 2006 book Sex Worker Union Organising: An International Study, but got nowhere.

According to the Times report, however, strippers across the country are finding new ways to organize, often using technology, as Los Angeles dancer Crissa Parker has, by creating an app—downloadable from the Apple or Google Play app stores—called The Dancer’s Resource. The app aggregates opinions submitted by strippers themselves to rate strip clubs based on their working conditions and treatment of dancers.

Parker herself told the Times that when she once asked a club manager for a copy of her contract—a minimal requirement for any employee or contractor—“the manager ripped it up in front of her face.”

Her story is far from unique, according to the Times report, in which other dancers say they have simply been barred from working in clubs after asking to inspect or negotiate their work contracts.

A California Supreme Court ruling last year, as has reported, came down in favor of reclassifying “independent contractors” as employees, and though the ruling ostensibly had nothing to do with the adult entertainment industry, the court’s opinion affected strippers directly.

The ruling, said Antonia Crane—founder of the stripper organizing group Soldiers of Pole—could help strippers effectively form a labor union. “Right now, the Supreme Court is saying, ‘You don’t even have to convince us,’” Crane told Times reporter Valeriya Safronova. “‘You’re employees, you have rights and the ability to organize.’”