Law Would Clarify Rights In Strip Clubs

Several ideas for new laws to regulate strip clubs are making their way to Oregon’s Capitol in Salem for consideration. Several months ago a coalition of dancers, social workers and advocates began meeting to discuss what regulations they should push for. They ended up with proposals for two bills that would affect establishments providing “live entertainment” all across Oregon. Most of the impetus for the proposed legislation is out of Portland, a city that has had a debatable reputation for having the most strippers per capita in the U.S.

HB 3059 would have the Bureau of Labor and Industries develop a poster detailing the rights of independent contractors and live entertainers. It would also require BOLI to set up a hotline to specifically address the concerns of live entertainers. The bill was brought forth at the request of the Oregon Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

The bill has gotten the support of several industry groups, including the American Federation of Musicians. Bruce Fife, the president of AFM, wrote testimony that the poster is needed because most live entertainers learn their rights “over time.” Even then, he wrote, most of what they learn comes from managers who may not always have the workers’ best interest in mind.

Most strip clubs in the U.S. classify their dancers as independent contractors. That comes with pros, mainly the fact that the dancers don’t have to file income tax withholding. However, the cons mean that the dancers do not have access to workers’ compensation benefits or unemployment insurance and are at risk for wage theft.

Last November, exotic dancers at a Manhattan strip club were awarded nearly $10.9 million in unpaid wages by a U.S. District judge who found that the dancers were unfairly classified by the club as independent contractors.

Here in Oregon, two dancers at Portland’s vegan strip club Casa Diablo, Matilda Bickers and Amy Pitts, have sued the club for thousands of dollars in back pay and for sexual harassment. At issue in the case is their position as independent contractors rather than employees.

EW visited the Silver Dollar, where employees were aware of the bills, but refused to comment without a manager present. The manager was unavailable before press time. The manager of Sweet Illusions in Springfield said he had no idea what was going on in Salem and that he wasn’t a good person to talk about the proposed legislation.

Alene MacDonald of Milwaukie, who said she has performed in clubs across the western U.S. and Oregon since 1998, was one of a few people representing Oregon’s adult entertainers in Salem at a public hearing on HB 3059 in March. She wrote in her testimony that currently, instead of posters detailing employee wage and labor rights, many establishments have signs stating how entertainers can be “reprimanded” for behaviors the club deems inappropriate.

“As an adult entertainer, the normal support channels of information are usually cut off,” she wrote, adding that it’s difficult to have frank conversations with friends or family about her work, so the small measure of establishing a hotline for workers in her industry to easily obtain information about their rights would go a long way.

HB 3059 passed out of the House Committee of Business and Labor on April 1 and is now in the House Committee on Ways and Means.

The coalition of dancers and social workers had several other ideas to bring to the Legislature. Caleb Hayes, a lobbyist for Pac/West Communications has been working with them.

“We feel confident in our chances of getting HB 3059 passed this session,” says Hayes.

Another bill, HB 3060, would require live entertainment establishments to get a license from the Department of Consumer and Business Services. The license would be granted only if the establishment was free from fire safety code violations, was clean and sanitary and had no “defects in structural integrity.” Stories of poles breaking and disease-infested stages prompted this bill. It had a public hearing in early March, but is still in the House Committee on Business and Labor.