LA's Star Garden dancers become country's only unionized strippers

North Hollywood organizers secure union recognition victory to join Actors' Equity Association.
By Chase DiBenedetto  on 
A close-up shot of a pink t-shirt with a logo featuring a black platform heel  that says "union".
Union organizers at Star Garden Topless Dive Bar may soon make history. Credit: Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

UPDATE: May. 18, 2023, 6:29 p.m. EDT Dancers at Star Garden Topless Dive Bar voted unanimously, 17-0, in favor of unionizing with the Actors' Equity Association, according to a ballot count held Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board.

After more than a year of organizing, a group of Los Angeles dancers is on the brink of becoming the nation's only union-represented strippers, marking a new milestone in the country's organized labor movement.

Strippers and their supporters at Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in North Hollywood had been calling for better working conditions, pay, and on-site safety, which prompted a push to become the first group of its kind in the country to gain union recognition since dancers at the Lusty Lady club in San Francisco unionized in 1996(opens in a new tab). But for months the organizing demand was met with an ice-out by Star Garden management, which refused to engage in negotiations with the dancers.

In a Tuesday press release(opens in a new tab), the union announced that lawyers representing the owners of the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar had withdrawn all election challenges and agreed to recognize the union. A union election vote count will be held on Thursday, May 18. Once the vote is counted, the National Labor Relations Board must certify the results. Star Garden employees can then formally unionize and engage in collective bargaining with management. The dancers' chapter would be joining the Actors' Equity Association(opens in a new tab), a national union for entertainment workers.

"Strippers are live entertainers. While some elements of their job are unique, they are essentially performance artists, and have a lot in common with other Equity members who dance for a living. Every worker who wants a union deserves a union," said Actors' Equity Association president Kate Shindle.

"If you have been following our journey, then you know this has been a long, exhausting fight, which is why this victory is so sweet. We put everything we have into this campaign, and we were fortunate to have the support and solidarity from the club's patrons, our allies and friends, the labor movement and our union, Actors' Equity Association," wrote Reagan, one of the Star Garden dancers, in the announcement.

In 2022, the group led a "Stripper's Strike"(opens in a new tab) outside of Star Garden, prompted by the bar management physically locking out a group of employees who delivered a privacy and safety grievance to the club's owners. The dancers alleged they weren't being protected from aggressive customers, were filmed without their consent, and were forced to deal with arbitrary job requirements as contracted employees. Multiple dancers who attempted to bring up concerns were fired(opens in a new tab).

The Star Garden dancer-led picket line attempted to push management to address their concerns and discourage patrons (and fellow dancers) from entering the club until the group's demands were met. They joined forces with Strippers United(opens in a new tab), a national strippers advocacy organization, and sought out pro bono legal aid prior to filing with the National Labor Relations Board in August and conducting its first vote last fall(opens in a new tab), with results put on hold due to employer legal filings and objections.

The owners of Star Garden filed for bankruptcy at the time, but are expected to work toward dismissing the bankruptcy and could reopen the club within 30 to 60 days, according to the union statement. The parties have agreed to meet within 30 days to negotiate a contract.

Three people join the stripper strike holding picket signs that read "stripper strike!" and "stripper safety over bosses' profit".
Credit: Frederic J. brown / AFP via Getty Images

Dancers at Star Garden had organized a wave of national support via social media, as seen on their Instagram page, @StripperStrikeNoho(opens in a new tab). The group had also called on supporters to sign their petition, "Star Garden Petition for Jobs and Safety"(opens in a new tab). Their latest push is a collaboration with Stripper Co-op(opens in a new tab), a dancer-owned strip "club" that operates through pop-up event series, to purchase their own club using grassroots fundraising efforts(opens in a new tab).

"I’m excited that all of my beautiful coworkers will finally have a seat at the table and a voice to discuss safety and other issues," wrote Sinder, another Star Garden dancer, in the Actors' Equity Association press release. "This is a big day for us and dancers everywhere."

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Chase sits in front of a green framed window, wearing a cheetah print shirt and looking to her right. On the window's glass pane reads "Ricas's Tostadas" in red lettering.
Chase DiBenedetto
Social Good Reporter

Chase joined Mashable's Social Good team in 2020, covering online stories about digital activism, climate justice, accessibility, and media representation. Her work also touches on how these conversations manifest in politics, popular culture, and fandom. Sometimes she's very funny.

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