Strippers Have Rights. But Do They Want Them?

In courthouses across the country, lawyers are fighting for strippers' rights -- and winning. But dancers are worried the lawsuits will cut into their cash flow.

"There are so many offenders in this area of the law that going after the stripper industry wasn't the main target," until some firms started pursuing these cases and winning, he says. "Now it's becoming more popular, and more women are speaking up."

Still, he acknowledges, "The industry is slow to change. [The independent contractor system] is the way it's done in almost every strip club across the country. It's the standard in the industry.

"But not for long," he goes on. "I think over the next five years, as a result of lawsuits like this, you're going to see a big change. Otherwise, I'll keep suing."


Rebecca Avalon likes to say she did things backwards: went to college, became an elementary school teacher, then started stripping. She's quit dancing full time twice but keeps going back.

"It's fun and it's a great revenue stream," she says. These days she does a few days a week at the Lodge, the homey-but-upscale club off of Northwest Highway, and runs Strip and Grow Rich, a website and seminar on financial education and management and long-term career planning. She based her program on Naked Assets, a similar series of classes that she took in Las Vegas; by May 2008, she was a majority owner in the Naked Assets company. Successful strippers, she says, think like business owners.

That's why employee status would be a disaster for them.

"I don't think any of the girls filing these claims fully understand what being an employee would mean," Avalon says. "Say you do a dance for 20 dollars. That would belong to the club. And then the club would pay you, whatever, eight, nine bucks an hour to do the job. A lot of [dancers] don't understand that it's an advantage to be an independent contractor. That's what I teach in the Stripping Business course."

Tax benefits are another focus of her workshops. "We have many more legal rights," she says, "things we can do as a business owner, as an independent contractor, in terms of tax advantages. We can write off the cost of our costumes, the cost of our makeup, everything that's associated with being a dancer." Most clubs provide receipts for house fees, she says, which the smart (and honest) dancer writes off during tax season.

To Avalon, the house fees are a minor cost of doing business. "We run our own business. We pay the house a fee," she says. "Say I owned a store. I'd have to rent space from someone who owned a storefront. It's exactly the same thing. Relatively speaking we pay a low house fee to the club in order to rent their stages in order to provide the services we provide."

Another local dancer, Meredith, agrees. She's 31 and has five-plus years in at the Lodge; she started working there while researching her master's degree in women's studies, but stayed on for both the money and the freedom to set her own schedule. "I wouldn't join one of these lawsuits," she says. She likes that she has greater control over her hours as a contractor, but that's not all that would prevent her. "I'd be concerned if those girls could be terminated at the club," in retaliation for joining a lawsuit, she says.

"I'd never want to jeopardize my position at the club," she says. "Nowhere else in the state I could make the same amount of money. I wouldn't want to rock that boat." Still, she allows, "It would be nice to be able to get sick leave or worker's comp, or health insurance."

Sarah is a 22-year-old dancer who's worked in strip joints from Dallas to Chicago (she asked that we change her name for this story). She's seen any number of creative ways clubs make money from dancers — including, she says, an "emergency fee" of $150 to $200 if dancers have to leave a shift early. But she's worked at clubs that classify their dancers as employees and is unimpressed with that system, too.

"The only real difference I see is I have proof of income right up front," she says. "But if I didn't file taxes that wouldn't be beneficial to me. Otherwise I don't really see it as an advantage at all. All it does is put a cap on my money, how much I can earn."

Sarah says she travels from state to state, working at some clubs as a contractor and others as an employee. Regardless of how she's classified, she says, "They still make us pay." And as a traveling dancer, the typical house fee is simply renamed a "locker fee," she says. She also pays the usual cuts to the DJ and house mom. "We still pay fees, they just rename them," she says. Many clubs have apartments where they let the traveling dancers stay; there, they're required to pay food and "overnight" fees as well.

Therein lies the problem: It's not that being considered an employee is the issue. Instead, these dancers say, they fear that clubs would be able to take an even greater share of the cash foisted on them by the lonely and horny. Stripping is, in many ways, a low-skill job in an industry no one seems terribly interested in regulating. So why not opt for the system that provides as much freedom as possible?

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42 comments
colorado disability lawyer
colorado disability lawyer

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colorado disability lawyer

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Tim Lebsack
Tim Lebsack

This problem is caused by the third party wanting to interfere in the private business between the club owners and the dancers.

Jessica
Jessica

I am a 26 years old girl, down to earth and cute but still single ... I wanna find my lover who can give me a real love,so I joined in the seekcasual.COM,it's the best club for man and woman finding their intimate encounters. Well, you do not have to be lonely , you can meet the Mr. or Miss. Right there.

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Crystal Evans
Crystal Evans

If they become employees, they would have to pay taxes on the salary that they are paid by the strip club owners. I wonder how many of them are paying taxes as independent contractors?

Xeginy
Xeginy

" "A lot of the girls I talk to at work don't care because we're the top earners," she says. "This could potentially hurt our group. It's only good for the low earners." "

Wow, really? So because you're part of the financially elite, you don't want anything to change, even though that change could benefit those who are poor? That's why there are such terrible problems with poverty in the US, because those who have money don't care.

Mysti Dancer
Mysti Dancer

no, i do not want strippers to get official employee rights, it would cause our income to be tracked and then what !! the current system has its flaws of course, but those flaws allow us to have the freedom we have as dancers. If i want i can go to blue cross and blue shield and get the best health insurance in the world, on my own without government intervention.

Larry in Laredo
Larry in Laredo

ahhhhhh, a stripper with a brain.........hmmmm, like a meth addict with a conscience? jus' sayin'.

Guest
Guest

"...that they have to give up their tips to the house, because that's the house's money"

And the next lawsuit that he loses will be for stealing tips in violation of federal labor law.

Sa
Sa

Interesting article. How in the world are the clubs getting away with classifying the waitresses, let alone the dancers, as independent contractors? I thought labor laws were pretty clear in respect to waiters & waitresses.

I suspect that the majority of dancers aren't aware to the tax writeoffs available to them. I would guess, though, that many of them have their own systems for maximizing their tips.

Joe
Joe

Most aren't dancing because their other career option was being a brain surgeon.

Easy mark for the lawyers....

Dan
Dan

I've worked as an independent contractor. There were no expectations of schedule or hours on site, merely that the project would be completed on-time. I did spend time on site, and usually during normal business hours, but that is when others are most available to meet with. I chose when to be on site.

The article quotes one of the owners or lawyers, something to the effect that the dancers are free to become employees and be paid $9.00 per hour with minimal benefits if they choose to. Guess what? Nobody's going to choose that option, are they?

Let's see. $500 per night times 5 nights per week = $2500 per week x 52 weeks = $130,000 in revenues. Some expenses come out of that, but one would think that the dancers could easily fork over $7K to $10K per year for health insurance out of that! And they can buy their own worker's comp insurance, too. Seems like a good deal for the average dancer who takes their job seriously, and isn't just dancing in order to snort and shoot up.

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

Soooooo....

If you combine a "Yellow" and a "Green", does it produce a "Blue"?

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Tim Lebsack The problem is caused by club owners and managers who have skirted the law by encouraging and coercing drug use, prostitution, and money above all else.  They are reaping what they sow... most of these girls are not even 25 years old, come from broken homes, and have zero to slim protection from these wannabe pimps and thugs.  If the club owners were acting responsibly this would not be an issue.  Not to mention their actions violate employment law; independent contractors should be free to come and go when they please, whereas dancers are required to work 7-8 hour shifts and must get permission to leave and are scheduled to work certain days by management.  No more whoring out our precious asset, young females, for liquor sales and room charges, change the law now!  If these managers had to pay an hourly wage, they would be selective in who they hired instead of trying to make house fees off every girl that fills out an application, drug user, escort, or not.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Xeginy This is an absurd comment, if the girls understood they would be getting free house fees, not required to tipout, and getting paid an hourly wage PLUS whatever they make in tips, they would be all for it.  Get educated about the issue.

Tsepmet1
Tsepmet1

No, it's because of you don't make money taking your clothes off for money, you shouldn't hurt the ones who do well.

Guest
Guest

why should they be punished for working hard? the system for them is the same. you hustle hard and you make money, you dont? you make less. there are always those who want to take the easy road and get paid the same. i see it everyday

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Mysti Dancer if you really believe this honey, you need to sit down and think about this because you don't know what you are saying.

Sa
Sa

Uh huh. I hope that you're reporting all income earned to the IRS, and that your reported income matches what passes through your bank accounts. And your lifestyle should match your reported income. And you do file a tax return every year, right? The penalties for tax evasion - not reporting income - and not filing returns can be substantial.

Tsepmet1
Tsepmet1

That just means that you don't have enough money for the smart ones toSit with you. ;)

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Sa The get away with more then you could ever imagine.

However waitresses are not classified as independents.  They receive a $2.17 to $5 an hour plus tips, on average.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Joe You must be a brain surgeon yourself.  If they werent violating the law in numerous ways, the lawyers wouldnt have a leg to stand on in a court of law.  Club owners are guilty of a myriad of illegal activities, obviously you wouldnt know about that seeing how you work in a hospital performing surgeries on brains (maybe an operation on yourself is in order)

Aguilera
Aguilera

That is why there are more and more people would consider it as a healthy sport item like Yoga.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Dan  You start by saying you have worked as an independent contractor, but lack credibility by continuing to spew total unfounded nonsense.  How do you know they make $500 a night, are you a former dancer? Or are you simply a mark who likes to hand out 500 to every stripper you meet? Your post reeks of someone who knows nothing of the business except maybe a patrons viewpoint and a slow one at that. Ive been a manager in the industry for years and I know firsthand that most girls make between $200 and $300 a night without calculating expenses. The majority dont make $500+ a night. Of course the escorts make that much and girls offering extras may make more, but the every day stripper that only wants to dance does not and they work mandatory 8 hour shifts, which means they are scheduled to work, which means they should be paid a wage, if you know anything about the business youd know that. Independent contractors are given free will to work when they want. Some girls walk away with $50-100 a night after spending $50 on house fees, tipping out mandatory $20, and making between 100-200. The cabaret owners and managers have made a mockery out of the business for years its time the golden days where girls are mistreated and owners make a bundle while incompetent managers hire drug users and prostitutes at no cost to them because each girl is a revenue stream need to end.  Regulation and reclassification of these employees is a necessity to clean up these clubs and give these guys time to rethink their strategies and theyre business models.  Keep quiet when you know nothing of what you speak, you sound like a bitter mark.

Priscilla
Priscilla

You are making a couple of mistakes in your calculations. One, you are assuming that every stripper works 5 nights a week, and that she makes that $500 every night. This is very foolish of you.

It is only the top earners at a top club who will make that kind of money consistently, and everyone has a slow night. And more than half the women stripping are doing it because they can make enough working 2-3 nights a week to live on a shoestring while they go to college or raise their kids.

RyanJ99
RyanJ99

@Sa Really? Thanks for the accounting advice, but if anyone takes financial advise on an internet comment page, they should be tar and feathered.  Stick to what you know, avoid preaching, and stop trolling.  

Queencaramel2000
Queencaramel2000

Someone is a bitter hater Laredo. You have some serious issues towards strippers. Broke? Ugly? Both? Or do you just hate pretty girls because you can't have them?

Sa
Sa

I thought this was explained in the article. I believe makeup, hair products, and costumes were given as examples. You'd be surprised how expensive makeup and hair products can be.

RyanJohnSmith
RyanJohnSmith

The old stand-by retort, ( and only ), from a whore trying to make what she does sound glamorous and respectful.

 
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