The Star Garden Topless Dive Bar dancers in Los Angeles have voted to unionize, becoming the only strippers unionized in the U.S. They join a growing trend among young employees who seek workplace protection through labor mobilization.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced on May 18, 2023 that the employees of the topless bar had voted with a 17-0 vote in favor of joining the Actors’ Equity Association.
Star Garden is the first strip club to be unionized since Lusty Ladies in San Francisco and Seattle. The documentary “Live Nude Girls United,” was based on the 1996 union campaign.
Lusty Lady closed its doors in Seattle, Washington, in 2010 and San Francisco three years later. Star Garden is the only strip club that has unionized. Given the high-profile nature and impact of other union campaigns among young staff, there’s a good chance Star Garden will not be the last club to unionize.
Rusty nails, broken glass
Star Garden is just the latest organizing breakthrough. In 2022, there were 2,510 petitions filed for union representation at the National Labor Relations Board election – a 53% rise from 2021. This is the highest number of petitions since 2016. In 2023, petitions for union elections have increased.
As at Star Garden, many recent union victories occurred in places that were previously resistant to labor campaigns. Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s, Apple retail stores REI, Ben & Jerry’s, Chipotle, Barnes & Noble, Ben & Jerry’s, and Ben & Jerry’s are just a few of the large companies where staff have unionized for the first since December 2021 when workers at Starbucks in Buffalo voted to organize. A successful union campaign can lead to other initiatives. The workers at more than 300 Starbucks stores now have voted to unionize. Their efforts have inspired other young workers in the low-wage services sector.
In other ways, their campaign is similar to other recent union campaigns in the United States. Star Garden hires the same young, confident workers who have been instrumental in the success of union campaigns at Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. The majority of dancers in Star Garden are in their 20s or 30s. They have been excellent spokespeople during the extensive coverage that the union campaign received on traditional and social media.
The new union drive is led by young employees, unlike previous generations. They are also doing it independently with much less outside mobilization from established union leaders. Star Garden workers organized themselves and pressured management repeatedly to address their concerns before deciding to petition the Actors’ Equity Union for a union vote.
Starbucks employees and supporters celebrate the success of a union drive. AP Photo/Joshua Bessex
Star Garden workers cite a number of issues as proof of the need for union protection, including sexual harassment from customers, inattentive management, and unsafe working conditions. These are, in many ways, just extreme versions of the problems that have prompted many workers in the retail and food service sectors to mobilize.
Like workers at Starbucks REI and Trader Joe’s, the Star Garden dancers concluded that collective bargaining and a union were the best ways to solve such problems.
Like many other workers, Star Garden’s strippers had to fight against the management for years in order to reach their goal.
The company tried to prevent union votes and fought worker organizing for 15 months.
The National Labor Relations Board held an election in November 2022. However, management opposition delayed the counting of the ballots to last week. It is alleged that Star Garden owners retaliated against workers who protested an unsafe workplace and claimed they were independent contractors instead of employees. Employers have also filed for bankruptcy, which can invalidate a union contract.