Strippers Clash Over Employment Status in Dueling L.A. Protests

1 min
Adult entertainers demonstrated in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Tues., April 2 to protest new state work rules that reclassify them as employees instead of independent contractors. (Larry Buhl/KQED)

Tensions over employment status in California were on display in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday as two groups of strippers debated whether they would be better off as employees or independent contractors.

Hoisting signs that said, "Keep politics out of strip clubs," and shouting "1099," a reference to the tax documents used by contractors, strippers with the Independent Entertainer Coalition protested (with clothes on) in front of Los Angeles City Hall, demanding to continue working as independent contractors. Doing so, they said, would give them the freedom to work for as many employers as they want to and have more control over their schedules.

At issue is the state Supreme Court’s 2018 Dynamex decision, which makes it more difficult for California companies to classify workers as independent contractors.

Megan Fowler, who dances at Déjà Vu strip club in Bakersfield, said that since her employment status changed from contractor to employee, the company that owns the club has slammed her with new fees that they hadn’t previously explained.

"The club is now in full and complete control of us, and anything they want, they get," Fowler said.

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Last fall, a class action suit filed by 6,000 dancers in 25 clubs against Las Vegas-based Deja Vu Services, Inc., which owns the venues, forced the company to adhere to the Dynamex decision and reclassify its contracted performers as employees. Dancers are now accusing the company of retaliating against them by reducing their wages.

So far, most companies in California have ignored the Dynamex decision, but new action in Sacramento may force their hands.

A bill now in the state Legislature, AB 5, would codify the Dynamex decision into law and could reclassify millions of California workers who have long been considered independent contractors. A 2017 UC Berkeley study showed that nearly 10 percent of California’s workforce is made up of freelancers and independent contractors.

Deanna LaPoint, a Los Angeles nightclub entertainer, helped organize Tuesday's protest. (Larry Buhl/KQED)

The dancers said the Dynamex decision has negatively impacted them in recent months. As employees, they said, they still pay for their own clothes and make-up, but can no longer claim those as work expenses on their taxes, like they did while classified as contractors.

"We have an $11 shoe allowance that also comes out of our dance money," Fowler said.

In a nearby counter-protest, members of the grassroots group Soldiers of Pole said they welcomed the change in employment status, but as employees were now demanding protections against discrimination and wage theft, in addition to health insurance and paid leave. Members of the group called the rival protest misguided, noting that even though there were certain downsides to being an employee, it still afforded the opportunity to receive many benefits not available to contractors.

Domino Rey, a stripper who confronted the first group of anti-employee dancers, called for unity and explained that the solution to abusive employers was to unionize, not to return to being classified as contractors.

"Now that we’re employees, we can all come together and say ‘Hey, you know what, you’ve got to talk to us,'" she said. "We are in agreement that you have to go through our organization and negotiate with us about how much we get paid per hour, how long our shifts are, who we dance for."

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