Unionizing Phoenix’s Strippers

You don’t have to watch the latest Franklin and Bash episode to know that strippers sometimes get a raw deal in society.  I can’t stop to help thinking that maybe if strippers unionized it would help cure some societal ills strippers face in employment, but it could also help the community as well.

What would it be like if the strippers in Phoenix unionized?  Hhhmmmmm.

I have been playing around with this idea for a while, long before I saw the Franklin and Bash try to unionize all the exotic dancers of Los Angeles, Season 4, Episode 6.  Seriously, if all the strippers in the city of Phoenix had a union to ensure they earned at least minimum wage, discrimination is kept in check (pregnancy discrimination comes to mind), and would be protected by the National Labor Relations Board in case they wanted to strike or picket (which would be interesting) —  it could help cure a lot of problems.

*** This article is not based off of any strip club in Phoenix and is just a generalization from what I have read about in the industry.  I do not know how any of the strip clubs in Phoenix are run, I only know the applicable laws governing employment.

Gorgeous Librarians

— Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk, Flickr

Nationally, the timing seems to be pretty good to try something like this, at least on a city-wide basis.  The spotlight is currently being shined on jobs where civil rights violations exist, and have flown under the radar for decades.  For example, earlier this month professional football cheerleaders of the Oakland Raiders, the Raiderettes (as they are called), won a $1.25 million dollar settlement for violations of state labor laws, including the failure to pay minimum wage.  Reported the Los Angeles Times.  “Instead of earning only $125 per game in a single paycheck delivered at the end of the season, Raiderettes will earn $9 an hour from now on, plus overtime, for the estimated 350 hours each cheerleader puts in each year, including rehearsals, practices and mandatory community and charity appearances. Their annual compensation will rise from about $1,250 to about $3,200.”  That is a more than a two and a half times pay bump.  As a football fan who also enjoys the cheerleaders, I hope more are lawfully compensated for their work.  It also starts to show a shift that as a society we will not tolerate these civil rights violations anymore.  If established jobs like NFL cheerleaders who work in a multi-billion dollar industry can change, then there is hope for strip clubs.

Once Before

Historically, it appears the Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco, which closed last year, is the only strip club nationwide to successfully unionize.  A former dancer at the club, Lily Burana, wrote a piece for the Atlantic Magazine last year, where she recounted her experience.  The piece really did not focus in on the unionization as much as I would have hoped, there were some interesting points.

Perhaps the most salient point towards unionization the piece makes is about the pay.  “And while the hourly wage meant a girl didn’t have to exhaust herself hustling for tips, the pay was quite low by industry standards—typically from the low-teens to low-twenties per hour.”  The author said, while she could have made money at other strip clubs, she was willing to take a pay cut because of the benefits the unionized club provided.

What’s to Gain?

Stable Employment

Arizona is a right to work state.  The public policy in this state is to classify workers as independent contractors who can be terminated at any time, for any reason, unless there is a signed contract stating otherwise.  Ariz. Rev. Stat. §23-1501.  This is very pro-business allowing businesses to change course on a dime.

My suggestion would be to make exceptions for certain industries that are historically have violated workers’ rights.

A policy of classifying workers as independent contractors unless there is a contract, while business friendly, may cause economic insecurity.

Economic insecurity, due to unemployment, is a serious menace to health, morals, and welfare of the people of this state. Involuntary unemployment is therefore a subject of general interest and concern which requires appropriate action by the legislature to prevent its spread and to lighten its burden which now so often falls with crushing force upon the unemployed worker and such worker’s family.

Kan. Stat. Ann. Employment Security Law § 44-702.

The Kansas Supreme Court used the state Employment Security Law in determining if strippers are employees or independent contractors of the club.  Milano’s, Inc. v. Kan. Dep’t of Labor, 293 P.3d 707 (Kan.2013).  The Court found that under Kansas state law strippers are considered employees.

With the nature of Arizona state law this case, if tried in the Grand Canyon state, would turn out completely opposite.

I believe with Kansas’ public policy in this instance.  For vulnerable groups, like strippers, automatically classifying them as independent contractors may cause increased economic insecurity.

Improved Working Conditions

As independent contractors strippers are virtually powerless and put in a precarious position between the club and the patron.

The strip club can set the work schedule, create policies for how the strippers should act while on the job, how much strippers charge for lap dances, etc.

Alternatively, strippers must also please the customer in order to be paid.  If the customer is grabby or violates the stripper’s boundaries, the choice is often between getting paid and putting up with the assault or saying something and potentially angering management.

As characterized in Franklin and Bash, Season 4, Episode 6, it is easy to retaliate against independent contractors who complain about working conditions.  On the tv show episode, a rusted pole broke on a stripper, she fell sustaining enough injuries to require hospitalization.  When she asked the club to pay for her medical expenses she was fired.  The club said as an independent contractor they could fire her at-will.

While the TV show is fictionalized, the result of how the stripper is treated as independent contractor very well could happen in Arizona because of the existing laws categorizing all workers as independent contractors unless they have a written contract.


Strippers are at a severe disadvantage when bargaining with their employers and also dealing with the customers.  Arizona’s general policy of treating workers as individual contractors unless there is a written contract stating otherwise does a disservice to strippers and the community.

If nothing else is done, creating a union for strippers to empower them with more equal bargaining power is an interesting idea.  It was tried once on a single club level.  Maybe the current climate is right to try it again.




2 thoughts on “Unionizing Phoenix’s Strippers”

  1. Actually I believe Lusty Lady formed a co-op and had to shut down when they couldn’t pay the rent and were evicted. Unions in my view are for the 1800’s with sweat shops etc.

    Unions basically drove the auto industry (and a few cities) to bankruptcy.

    I have a client that installs computers at a major auto company.

    Truck arrives.
    Certain union guy has to unload the truck and takes it to workstation.
    Computer guy has to wait for a member of the electrical union to PLUG IT IN!
    He has been in the rooms where guys just sit around for days or weeks since no work for them but have to keep them employed due to union contacts.

    If you are more for socialism vs the free enterprise system, that is more the way of Unions.

    Many govt employees get huge pension benefits and as in Phoenix can “double dip”, bad teachers can not be replaced and many defined benefit plans for union employees have huge unfunded costs for high benefits.

    FINRA/SEC just made new rule that municipalities for their bond offerings not have to at least footnote their under funded pension liabilities so investor know the risks. Most of these issues are due to labor unions insisting on benefits that simply can not be afforded by many companies or municipalities.

    One of the great events in U.S. history was when Pres Reagon with the strike of air traffic controllers, said ok, if you don’t want to work for what we offer your fired.

    It created problems on hiring and training new air traffic controllers, but it was a great victory standing up to the unions with unreasonable demands. It is called the free enterprise system. If you prefer more socialism suggest move to many places in Europe.

  2. Hi Dave,

    I would certainly agree that there are good and bad points to unions. I think I would also agree some unions today may always act in the interest in why they were created.

    I would take issue that unions are a form of socialism. In the United States there are many protections put in place in society in an attempt to even the playing field. For example, contract law has the doctrine of contract of adhesion. This is where the terms and conditions of the contract are set by one of the parties, and the other party has little or no ability to negotiate more favorable terms and is thus placed in a ‘take it or leave it’ position. Courts will often void contracts of adhesion.

    As I tried to argue, I think strippers are in a precarious position in society. As the way the current law is in Arizona, strippers can be discriminated against and taken advantage of with little hope of recourse.

    I think unionizing is an interesting idea that could give benefit to Phoenix and provide some economic stability to the region.

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