Barkan Meizlish , September 8, 2020
Employee misclassification is one of the most commonplace ways employers participate in wage theft. In many industries, this means classifying workers as independent contractors despite holding them to employee-specific standards. The strip club industry is rampant with this type of misclassification, with a recent statistic showing that at least one dancer files against their employer for misclassification every four days. Dancers have been fighting and organizing for better working conditions for decades. The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced another layer of hazard to the field. With the misclassification of many dancers as independent contractors came the inability to receive unemployment at the beginning of the pandemic. Many IC’s were left without income before the CARES Act. The Act gave each state the ability to expand benefits to independent contractors. However, the Act does not undo the decades of work and struggle many in the industry have endured.
When reopening began, strip clubs were on standby until they were able to introduce additional safety protocols for patrons and dancers. Clubs began to impose new rules regarding contact with customers, socially distanced dances, and masks. These rules, while intended to protect both customers and dancers, brought additional hardship into the workplace. Many dancers already struggle with mistreatment from management and patrons alike prior to the pandemic. Multiple lawsuits have been brought against clubs regarding treatment of African-American dancers and sexual abuse, while a plethora of stripper-run blogs report on individual dancer mistreatment. Many dancers have reported that clubs are reporting higher turnout rates than usual. This increase in contact (even with social-distancing measures) increases potential exposure to the virus, on top of other workplace risks dancers are already exposed to.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a video went viral of dancer Genea Sky falling from a pole while working at XTC Cabaret. Genea did not have any accident insurance provided to her as an independent contractor at the club. She did not have insurance or other legal protections. Crowd-sourcing her medical expenses helped Genea during crisis, as has been many American’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her status as an independent contractor, rather than an employee, at the time of her fall prevented her from receiving benefits and protections from the club.
The additional risk of contracting COVID-19 into the club setting without a promise of medical care, FMLA, or other resources many employees have access to shows a dangerous bind that many dancers face. The historic lack of protections for gig workers and independent contractors have sparked unionization efforts for decades, and the strip club industry has remained at the forefront. The ongoing effort to unionize strip clubs throughout America has grown increasingly vital during the pandemic, and the forward momentum for the movement does not seem to be slowing down.
In early August of 2020, a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board determined that a Columbus, Ohio dancer was, in fact, a statutory employee under Ohio Law. The dancer, Brandi Campbell, was involved in many lawful union organizing efforts at a variety of strip clubs throughout years. Her termination shortly after her hiring at Centerfold was for an apparent no-touching violation. This ruling came in a crucial moment in the strip club labor organizing movement. As previously mentioned, when states like Ohio began rolling out phase-based reopening plans, many dancers found themselves in an increasingly difficult position: return to work with few protections, or stay home and lose their Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits? Along with many other service industry workers, many dancers made the difficult decision to put their well-being on the line and return to work. These factors, combined with the years of hard work and labor organizing done by strippers across the nation, have brought opportunity for change and protection in the industry.
The efforts put for to organize exotic dancers and adult entertainers are pivotal in combating employee misclassification. All workers deserve fair pay and protection, and dancers are no exception. In times like these, worker solidarity is crucial to protecting the American people across industries.
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