Exotic dancers are fighting back against unfair wages, and last week they scored a landmark victory.
The words "labor dispute" make a lot of people imagine big men on a picket line. This, despite the fact that the high-profile workers' struggles of the past year happened in jobs dominated by women stuck with low wages and little respect: from domestic workers securing benefits in New York state, to Chicago's teachers' strikes, to this week's Black Friday actions organized across the country against Wal-Mart. There's another group of women we should add to this list, women who have been continually fighting for their rights at work, who are met with disbelief and retaliation when they stand up, and smirking headlines and punny scorn even when they win.
Last week, strippers employed by the Spearmint Rhino chain won an unprecedented $13 million settlement in Federal court, the result of a class action suit to restore back wages and contest their status as independent contractors of the clubs. Deciding in the dancers' favor is U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips, best known for ruling "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" unconstitutional in 2010. It's one of the largest financial settlements awarded to dancers at a major chain in the United States—with 20 locations worldwide, and though Spearmint Rhino would not release this information, it's fair to estimate with several hundred if not several thousand dancers working in their clubs in the United States. In sex workers' ongoing fight for the same rights on the job that any worker should expect, will the dancers' case be a tipping point in the strip club business? "Spearmint Rhino is a big brand." says Bubbles Burbujas, a stripper and one of the co-founders of the popular sex work blog Tits and Sass. "There's no way this won't have an effect."