| I understand
youre not a dancer now.
||Right. I think that I stopped
working in August of 95, so its actually been a little while.
- How long did you work as a dancer?
- About 5_ years, part-time. I was primarily a student
while I was working, so I usually worked an average of maybe two to three
times per week.
- Where have been the different places that youve worked?
- Primarily just in San Francisco. The Market Street Cinema, the Mitchell
Brothers OFarrell Theatre, and I worked at a couple of other places
but just for like a couple of days here and there and that was Century
and Crazy Horse.
- How did you find that work when you were doing ithow did you
feel about it?
- I usually tell people that the work itself, as far as being a dancer,
as far as being a sex industry workerI had no problems with it.
It was the way the workers were treated that bothered me. And not so
much by societyI think that definitely contributes to itbut
more so the direct treatment of the managers of the workersthat
was pretty upsetting. I found that to be very degrading, more so than
people usually think the work is.
- Can you tell me more about that? How was the management?
- Well, it was interesting because theres a lot of favoritism
that goes on, and a lot of mistreatmentsort of the two ends of
the spectrum. For the most part, when I first started working, things
were ok, but then I started to experience sexual harassment on a regular
basis, and the other thing was the labor violations as far as not being
afforded wage-an-hour, when we were clearly employees. So I did file
a formal complaint with first the Labor Commission and the other enforcement
agencies around labor violations and around sexual harassment/discrimination.
- What were the results of your filing those?
- Theyre actually still pending.
- Oh my God. When was that when you filed?
- I filed in July of 93. Its been almost five years. Yeah, I havent
received any restitution whatsoever, and most of the women who also
filed have not. The owners at the particular club that I was working
for filed for bankruptcy even though it is suspect that they are actually
bankrupt (laughs a little), so thats why its been taking
so long as its just been truly a manipulation of the judicial
system, and theyve been able to find some loophole and prolong
things as long as possible. So thats basically where it stands
right now is theyre in bankruptcy court and the Mitchell Brothers
class action suit was filed I believe in 1994 and that is just going
to trial this summer, I believe, so its been a very long haul.
- Yeah. Are you part of that class action suit?
- Im a class member, Im not a plaintiff, but I am a class
member because I worked there during that specific time that is under
- OK. What is the theater that youre filing charges against?
- The Market Street Cinema. They own a monopoly of theaters in San Francisco.
They own also the Century Theatre, they own the Regal Theatre which
just recently unionized and was shut down, they own the Campus Theatre,
the male theater, and a few other adult businesses. Its sort of
a larger corporation that has a monopoly over some of the clubs.
- So the sexual harassment , what forms did that take? Was it mainly
from the management? Were there customers also doing that and the management
not stopping it?
- A combination of both. My complaint was centered more so around the
management treatment and it claims physical and emotional harassment,
verbal harassment, being fondled, being talked to inappropriately. There
was also some degree of customer harassment and I did find that when
we went to complain that the customer generally was always right. So,
but I didnt actually list that in my complaint, but several women
have come forward and filed police reports and have alluded to customer
harassment, so at least thats being put out there, because I believe
that the management is responsible for their patrons and making sure
that the patrons are informed of whats appropriate and whats
not. And so usually theyd rather see the customer come back again
and get their money then to reprimand them and say "You were inappropriatedont
touch our dancers that way." Its a difficult situation.
- Yeah, that makes the work harder too, when youre not being treated
- Yeah, I think that is where a lot of the sex worker burn-out comes
from. I think (performance artist) Annie Sprinkle has alluded to that
and tries to help women with preventing burnout, but I think there is
a high degree of that, because you do have to put up with a lot, physically
- Did you find that there was any difficulty working with the other
women who were dancers?
- I think that the nature of this business is perpetuating competition
among the women. Youre always competing for your wages because,
especially in the sense where youre not reimbursed as an employee,
even though you may be classified as an employee, if the manager is
going to classify you as an independent contractor, youre competing
for whatever you make on that particular day. So I think whats
been the most disheartening as far as all of this the organizing
and working in the industry, has been the level of competition among
the women and sometimes the lengths that women will go to protect their
own position and salaries. I mean, I understand that people have to
do that because thats their livelihood, but when it comes down
to defending management versus your co-worker, I do find that very unhealthy
and I think its very damaging, it doesnt relate to solidarity
and I dont think anyone comes up a winner in that situation.
- Are you still a student, or what are you doing?
- Yeah, Im actually finishing my Masters degree at UC Berkeley
in social welfare. This is my last semester. I had also worked at the
AIDS Foundation for over two years while I was dancing. I always had
either school or some type of job on the side, and I think thats
why Ive been fortunate is because I wasnt totally immersed
in that industry and can get a perspective as far as the way that other
industries operate. I mean, there are definitely some similarities as
far as the way that women are treatedthats just across the
board. You know women are not treated as equals, but its especially
blatant in the sex industry as far as the discrimination, everything,
it seems like thats like a model case for how women should not
be treated, but I am in school and finishing upthis has been a
two year program, so Ive pretty much been immersed in school for
the last couple of years. The degree Im getting is my MSW.
- What would you say was the positives about the job and some of the
negatives? If you were to point out what the good things about the job
were and what the more negative things were, what would you say?
- I think the positives are that women are able to initially earn a
decent living and can afford to live in the City which is very expensive,
and there are few other avenues as far as career opportunities, whether
its school or training programs or whatnot. I think that that
flexibility , and for a lot of single mothers, too, you know, it was
more realistic for them to do this type of work than to try to hold
down a 40 hour per week job. But at the same time, while thats
a positive, I think that its also a negative, that we dont
have other opportunities where women can earn this type of money in
any other industry. I am definitely pro-choice, you know, around a lot
of issues, but I do feel like a lot of times women dont
necessarily have a choice in entering this type of work because there
are not a lot of other opportunities for them to make this type of money.
So, I think thats really the most positive aspect is that if you
can get past the way that the system operates, then you can go in, and
try to make as much money as you can and get out. And I think for some,
too, it allows them some type of artistic freedom and expressionI
always see that as a positive. For me, I met a lot of really wonderful
people who felt very strongly about the rights of women and the rights
of workers in generalI always see that as a positive. I feel blessed
in meeting the people that I have, I feel very fortunate, I was able
to meet those people even though some of the things are sometimes negative.
I came out with a great group of colleagues and a great group of friends
that I feel like I could rely on for a long time.
- About how much pay could someone earn per day or per week?
- It really varies. A lot of people ask me that question. It depends
upon the club, it depends upon the day of the weekif Monday night
football is happening youre probably not going to earn as much
money (laughs) as some other night. Before a lot of these commissions
and quotas and really high stage fees were introduced, you could generally
anticipate that you could go in and make at least one or two hundred
dollars a shiftand sometimes could make more, obviously. But it
really depended, that was the thing, you couldnt necessarily plan
a really accurate budget around what you would be making each day cause
it varied from day to day. And I think thats what makes it hard
for a lot of people to save money while theyre in that industry
is because it becomes easy to just spend the money you have, thinking,
"Oh, Ill just go back the next day and make more." So
it really varies.
- How long is a shift?
- Generally, when I was working a shift was up to eight hours per day.
Sometimes people would do double shifts and end up working a day shift
and a night shift. But generally they were about seven to eight hours.
And also that depends on which club.
- I wanted to talk to you about your work with EDA, the Exotic Dancers
Alliance. I understand that you were one of the co-founders of it.
- So could you talk a little bit about how you started it, why you started
- Sure. Were actually embarking upon our fifth year, so we started
in May of 93 and basically at that time myself and Dawn Passar who is
the other co-founder were both working at the Market Street Cinema and
the stage fee had initially been 10 dollars. When I first started working
there was no stage fee. So about a year into my work period there, they
introduced a 10 dollar per shift stage fee which at this point doesnt
seem like that much money, but what they were then able to do is increase
it as much as they wanted. So they increased it and doubled it to 20
dollars and a lot of women were upset because you know although people
are going to say, "Whats 20 dollars when youre making
hundreds per shift," but thats not always the case. And the
other thing was that there wasnt any justification for it, which
led us to believe that they could raise it again and we would have no
say. So we held a meeting
- Was this a meeting at the Market Street Cinema?
- Yeah. There were approximately 30 to 35 dancers that showed up and
we held it off site at a restaurant like two doors down. And whats
interesting is that the managers did come to that meeting cause they
saw the flyers that we had posted and stuff. So they came and just kind
of sat back and said, "Well, were here to learn," and
gave us some story about how they should be present at that meeting.
And a lot of people brought up various concerns that they had, ranging
from having to tip the DJs in order to be sure that you would be put
on the schedule again, safety issues came up
- What kind of safety issues?
- Just concerns around customers and also managers too. And people felt
like that if we were going to be paying 10 dollars more per shift, and
(the management was) getting that from every dancer, then we should
have improvements. Safety also ranges to just your physical safety and
the way the dressing rooms were structured and cleaned and stuff like
that, so we asked for jest a couple of minor things, and actually signed
a petition as well, and had everyone put their stage names on there
and forwarded it to the manager and said this is what we came up with.
We finally actually asked that the stage fee be reduced by 5 dollars,
so we were willing to pay, all the workers were willing to pay, 15 dollars
per shift if they would make some improvements and if they would lower
the stage fee. So it didnt seem like too big of a request. And
now, looking back on it, it seems like if they just would have appeased
us in that way initially, probably EDA wouldnt be around right
now. But we basically got no response from the managers. We sent a letter
by certified mail, we knew that they received it. And this sort of showed
us that the work needed to continue, so we began holding regular meetings
for women to come and express their concerns about their working conditions
and then started to take formal actions. So myself and Dawn filed complaints
with as many agencies as we could, and also made a lot of presentations.
We did a lot of public speaking forums to places like the Commission
on the Status of Women and other city government agencies to try to
get some support. So we just continued with the work and also started
to put out the newsletters during that first year. (We) set up a mailing
list and distributed information to as many dancers as possible and
thats really been the most challenging thing is trying to get
women accurate information, because its easier to actually do
street outreach and impact either homeless or street prostitutes that
are out there and you can physically see them, and you can tangibly
give them information, but its harder to get past the bouncers
and the managers and they made it hard for us to get consistent information
to everybody. So were still very challenged by that, and have
actually been working with local merchants and different community organizations
to help us put information out there. So it really snowballed from that
initial meeting(Ive) been doing this work ever since.
- Wow. Youre still active in EDA then.
- Right, yeah. We have a more formalized organizational structure now
so Im actually the president of the board and we have the executive
officers and we have the full board that consists of service providers
that work with sex industry workers and current and former workers.
And then we also have a general membership, and we have a dancer mailing
list as well. And we recently were funded by the San Francisco Foundation,
so were able to put on workshops for current and former sex industry
- What kind of workshops do you do?
- So far weve held a computer training, weve had a couple
of work processing and Internet classes, we are having a film and video
workshop at APA this coming week. Weve done some labor workshops
and we also initiated a monthly support group for dancers which is facilitated
by one of our executive officers as well as Magna Rubenstein who is
with the Institute for the Advanced Studies of Human Sexuality so she
got to be a therapist. So we have a balance. All of our workshops are
either facilitated by board members or other dancers as well as others
from the community. So we like to have that balance that really encourages
peer development. We have a few other workshops to do this coming year,
so we try to do a couple per month.
- Can you tell me more about how the union at Lusty Lady got started
and what happened there?
- We actually received a couple of voicemail messages on our phone lines
at EDA from women who were working at the Lusty, and I remember that
they also came to a meeting of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethicsa
prostitutes rights organization) at that time as well, but were expressing
concerns around the customers abilities to be able to videotape
them behind the one way mirrors. They had some fears about pictures
being released without their consent and management had not taken a
very pro-active role in discouraging customers from bringing in cameras.
For example, I dont think they were requiring the customers to
check in their bags at the front, and I dont think they were searching
to see if they did have a camera, so the only way the women would know
they were being filmed is if they happened to see a little red light
from behind the glass, because you cant see the customer, they
can only see you. And this sort of prompted them to draft up a petition
and at the time they had, I think at least 75% of the workers in agreement
around this issue. And they came to us for assistance to see what would
be their options, and we presented them with a few options at that time.
We had actually been working with SEIU (Service Employees International
Union),the Local 790 and various employees prior to that time, and when
they happened to call us, we were embarking on a formalized agreement
with SEIU. They were helping us with various organizing activities.
They allowed us to use their meeting spaces and copiers and stuff like
that, so we were holding most of our meeting there. So it just so happened
that these women were ready to go before we had actually formalized
this arrangement, so we said, you can basically go out and file complaints
at the administrative level like with the Labor Commission and places
like that, or the Department of Fair Employment and Housing around discrimination
issues, or you could go out and get a private attorney, file a class-action
lawsuit, or what we sort of stressed may be their best option, really,
was to unionize, organize because they were already there, they already
did the footwork and pretty much came together and established consensus
around this issue. And we explained to them what we had gone through
personally, a couple of our members, in filing either administrative
or class action lawsuits that we couldnt exactly see tangible
improvements at this time and didnt know that we ever would. So
the best way to be able to actually be able to negotiate fairer working
conditions was to formerly organize, so we introduced them to some of
the union organizers. And it was their decision. I mean, we provided
them with advocacy, information and referrals, and support, too, we
had received a lot of community support prior to this, so we had agencies
and elected officials and people like that who knew who we were, and
were willing to put their names on endorsement letters and stuff like
that, so we definitely helped them in that sense, but Id credit
the women because they were incredibly organized initially and really
willing to have the perseverance to carry this through. And right now
theyre entering negotiations for their second year contract. So
I think they have a great situation, because I dont know of any
other clubs where women have the opportunity to sit down with the managers
and say, "Look, this is what we want and lets work on this,"
and all these other clubs, either the workers have to be passive and
go along with management and totally live in denial, or take the stand
that we did and risk losing their jobs. So I think (the workers at the
Lusty Lady are) still pretty intent on meeting a lot of their demands
and hopefully theyll be successful.
- Have you had any success with working on unions with other workers,
is that something you want to do, or
- I think a lot of people, there are a couple of things going on. Most
of the workers have not received the employment status
- Oh, because theyre still independent contractors?
- Theyre technically employees, but theyre still classified
as independent contractors, so thats one barrier right there.
So first, you have to fight for your wage-an-hour, and thats a
big fight. The second thing is I think a lot of the conditions have
worsened, to the point where women are in this place of feeling completely
helpless, they dont necessarily think that they can change their
working conditions. And management basically gets away with whatever
they want to get away with at this point. So its a real fear dynamic
in that way, and its a hard thing to do, I mean, youre basically
risking your livelihood if no one else is behind you. So I think the
difference with the Lusty Lady is they were always employees, so they
werent competing for wages in that sense. Something that they
did ratify is that they had sort of indicators for raises and different
standards for how much you would get. Its a range between, I think,
10 dollars or more up to like 20-something dollars you can receive if
youre working there. So they werent competing with each
other in that way. And we have actually worked with a lot of workers
outside of San Francisco, and what weve done is, one of the women
at the Lusty Lady has put together a brochure for all dancers, its
actually more an informational packet, it tells you how to organize
your workplace if youre a stripper. And were going to be
distributing this information to people, so it will be nationwide, actually.
So you know, all that we can do at this point is to provide guidance,
information and support for people. Its really up to them how
much they want to endure. If they want to continue to work in these
situations that to me seem pretty intolerable, I cant make that
decision for them. We are always there to help people if they want the
assistance, but if they dont want to organize, thats up
- What would you say right now are the current issues, the prominent
issues, for women who are dancers?
- I think the main things are the labor violations and the civil and
human rights violations. Theres a high degree of coerced prostitution
right now which goes hand-in-hand with the fact that there are high
stage fees and quotas or commissions that women are having to pay in
order to work. The health and safety standards are pretty low just in
terms of the cleanliness of the clubs, the fact that a lot of these
women, most of these women, have no benefits whatsoever. And, I think,
just a feeling of low moral, that youre powerless in your workplace,
I think thats definitely going on. And no immediate sense of remedying
this at all. I think for a lot of people, its disheartening: you
go and make as much money as you can make and you leave and you try
not to think about it. And I think the other thing too is for a lot
of women who dont want to put up with this but have to because
they dont have really any other skills or dont know how
to do about any other type of work, and then the opportunities to get
some type of employment where they could make as much as they could
at some of these clubs even though they may be forced into prostitution,
theyre willing to do that because they just dont feel like
they have any other options. And to some degree, thats true. So
its fairly complex in that sense that if someone want to leave
the situation its not like just getting up and walking away.
- Do you have any other things that you want to bring up as far as your
work in the past or what youre doing now?
- Well, I think as far as the Exotic Dancers Alliance is concerned,
that ultimately one of our goals would be that there wouldnt be
a need for us to do the advocacy and the political activities that we
do, but wed really want to make sure that these workers have equal
access and equal protection as much as any other worker in any other
field, so we really try to make sure that these workers are seen as
contributors to society and theyre just as important as any other
type of workers in any other field. So in that sense, we still have
a lot of work to do as far as educating the general public and trying
to affect their positions and opinions on how they treat sex industry
workers. And we really want to make sure that these clubs are working
within the law and that the workers are protected and that they have
opportunities to go on or stay in the business and not be discriminated