Dancers at the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in Los Angeles have declared victory in a hard-fought battle to unionize– a landmark moment for the industry.
In a press release published yesterday (May 16), the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) announced that the Star Garden dancers had won a 15-month-long fight to gain union recognition.
“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,” said Reagan, a dancer at Star Garden, in a statement.
The dancers are expected to vote in favor of unionization this Thursday (May 18), en route to becoming the only unionized strippers in the US.
Once the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certifies the election results, the dancers will join the AEA, a union representing over 51,000 professionals working in live theater. The owners of Star Garden have agreed to meet with the AEA within 30 days to negotiate a first contract.
“The Star Garden dancers have been absolute warriors throughout this long process, and I’m thrilled that we’ve won recognition of their rights to safety and democracy in the workplace and representation at the bargaining table,” said Kate Shindle, president of the AEA, in a statement.
Unionization in the US’s exotic dancing industry is a rare occurrence. The industry’s last successful organizing push appears to date back to 1996, when the Lusty Lady in San Francisco voted to unionize. The peep show closed in 2013.
Star Garden’s fight for safe working conditions
Last year, dancers at Star Garden, a club in North Hollywood, raised concerns with the owners Yevgenya “Jenny” Kazaryan and Stepan “Steve” Kazaryan about the safety, privacy, and health of the staff.
“At the Club, we navigate a room which is regularly full of belligerently drunk men who push our boundaries and often scare us,” read a Change.org petition 15 of the dancers at the club launched on March 15 last year. “Our employer should not prioritize customers’ desire for entertainment over our health and safety.”
The petition also demanded the reinstatement of two dancers whom the club allegedly fired in retaliation for raising concerns. After their grievances were reportedly ignored, the dancers began picketing outside the club in March 2022. The protests ran until November.
In December, the NLRB determined that Star Garden breached labor law when it fired three of its employees and locked out 15 more for demanding better working conditions.
Under the new agreement, the dancers fired last year will be reinstated. Star Garden, which previously filed for bankruptcy to allegedly stall organizing efforts, has agreed to withdraw the case and reopen within 30 to 60 days of its dismissal.
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