Labor disputes led dancers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady to form the first exotic dancers union (SEIU Local 790) in 1997; the club later became an employee-owned cooperative. Employees were paid minimum wage and attained sick days and other benefits, as well.
Camelot’s Sarah said such a system strips strippers of incentive.
“I made the most money when I’d come in negative [from fees]; they motivate you. … An hourly wage can set the expectation that the money is going to be there regardless of how nice you are,” Sarah said. “If there wasn’t a competitive spirit, business could get bad, you could stop tanning, stop watching your weight, stop being nice … that costs everybody money.”
Those problems have plagued the unionized Lusty Lady over the past 15 years. While companies like Spearmint Rhino spawned multi-million empires with 20 chains using independent contractors, Lusty Lady’s revenues dropped after it unionized.
Infighting reached a head in 2006 when several male dancers complained that several women did not show the professionalism required of a stripper—in a word, they were fat—and were costing the club business. The club is now in danger of closing.