When the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar reopens Thursday, Aug. 24 in North Hollywood, it will feature the nation’s only unionized strippers.
The venue shuttered early this year, and the reopening of the club on Lankershim Boulevard is another step forward for the roughly 30 dancers associated with the club, many of whom are now members of the Actors’ Equity Association.
They waged a year-long campaign to join Actors’ Equity, and it wasn’t until May that management opted to recognize their union status.
“We’re still hammering things out at the bargaining table,” said Kate Shindle, president of the association. “A final union contract remains a work in progress.” The organization represents more than 51,000 workers.
The dancers are seeking increased protection from belligerent customers, and they also want to ensure they receive an adequate share of the revenue generated through their performances.
Representatives with Star Garden could not be reached for comment.
One of the club’s strippers, who goes by the stage name Lilith, said she’s ready to hit the stage again.
“I’ve been dreaming of going back since the start of the picket line,” the 27-year-old Los Angeles resident said. “This will be a major celebration.”
The move to unionize, they say, grew out of necessity.
The strippers contend that in March 2022 the club’s security guards and management repeatedly refused to protect them from threatening and abusive behavior from patrons. They’ve also complained of unsafe work conditions, including holes in the stage and protruding nails.
On March 18, 15 of the club’s 23 employees at the time delivered a petition to Star Garden’s owners stating their demands. But when they attempted to meet with their bosses to discuss their grievances, the dancers were locked out.
They picketed the club for eight months. The situation escalated in August 2022 when the majority of strippers filed a petition for a union-recognition election with the National Labor Relations Board.
An election was held last fall, but the vote count (17-0 in favor) wasn’t released due to election challenges filed by the the club’s owners. They claimed some of the strippers weren’t directly employed by Star Garden.
A representative with Actor’s Equity said business at the club plummeted during that time, prompting the owners to scale back the lineup of dancers while the club was “quietly atrophying away.”
Star Garden closed its doors in early 2023 as management attempted to file for bankruptcy, saying the club would reopen as a pool hall. But that never happened.
Things turned around during a May 18 settlement hearing with Actors’ Equity when Star Garden owners withdrew all of their election challenges. Management agreed to recognize the union and meet at the bargaining table.
Ongoing negotiations for a labor agreement have been underway throughout the summer and are ongoing, union officials said.
“Patrons should be able to go to a strip club, enjoy themselves and feel good in knowing that the dancers are well-treated,” Shindle said. “Soon, I hope, we will have a contract that will give our members what they need and at the same time help the club to succeed.”
Lilith said labor negotiations have been happening every other week. Around 10 dancers initially will take the stage, she said, although that number is expected to rise as business picks up and more of the club’s dancers are called back to work.
“We still have a ways to go to get a contract we’re happy with,” she said. “It’s a work in progress.”
Velveeta, a Star Garden dancer, said last year that the dancers were in dire need of collective bargaining.
“We’re like so many other workers who have learned that it’s not a choice between suffering abuse or quitting,” she said. “With a union, together, we can make needed improvements to our workplace.”
The North Hollywood strippers are not the first to unionize.
Dancers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady organized the Exotic Dancers Union in 1996 and were later affiliated with the Service Employees International Union before that club closed in 2013.
https://www.ocregister.com/2023/08/23/star-garden-strippers-returning-to-the-stage-this-time-unionized/ Star Garden strippers returning to the stage, this time unionized – Orange County Register