Recently, performers at the Golden Banana gentlemen's club in Peabody, Massachusetts have filed a class-action lawsuit against the club's owners, over wages and benefits.
Now, before you snicker and make snide remarks, let me set the record on how these ladies are treated -- not just at this establishment, but across the country.
If you're an exotic dancer, the club doesn't consider you an employee. You're categorized as an "independent contractor", which means the club doesn't need to pay payroll taxes, Social Security contributions, healthcare or other benefits.
Now this makes sense if you're a comedy club hiring new talent every night, with the comics touring from one club to another. But the Golden Banana and many other clubs make the performers sign a contract enjoining them from performing at any other establishment. Not to mention dictating what music they can dance to, what wardrobe they can wear ... some independence!
And that's just for starters. Performers are required to pay a fee to get on stage. Their pay is in customer tips -- no salary, no commission for getting customers to buy overpriced drinks -- and they are required to share their tips with salaried employees. If you're sick, or have a kid or elderly parent to take care of, that's one more day you don't make any money.
I've also heard from women who work in these clubs that the owners encourage a "pecking order" among performers, with favorites getting choice money-making slots above others. That means that, while a few will make good money, many just make a living, sometimes just breaking even or losing money on bad nights.
It's about time the so-called "gentlemen" who own these clubs treat their ladies with the respect and dignity they deserve. They are the reason people come in and spend money. They deserve fair payment for their work.
If they're going to be "independent contractors" then let them be independent. Let them perform at any club, not just yours. Drop the performance fees, and take a twenty percent commission of their tips. Let them choose their music and wardrobe, and encourage creativity in their performances. Perhaps the club owners and the performers could get together to set up plans for group health insurance, disability insurance, and 401K's. And if a club wants to retain a performer exclusively, then sit down and negotiate a fair contract for their talent.
Compensation is just one part of the equation. There is also the fundamental issue of respect. Exotic dancers work for their money, and deserve to be treated with the same dignity as any other working artist. And not just from the club's owners, but their clients as well. If they're willing to take it all off for us, then it's high time we take a stand for them.