Discover the Los Angeles strippers trying to form a union.


Discover the Los Angeles strippers trying to form a union. A dancer known only as Reagan waits for her cue outside a North Hollywood dive club with a sign offering topless dancers on a recent Friday night.

She rushes to the driver’s side window just as a car carrying Star Garden customers pulls into the parking lot. She gives four guys her reasons for thinking the pub, where she used to work, doesn’t merit their patronage.

“It’s true that we’re eager to get our groove on. The space is fantastic, “According to what Reagan has shared with his pals. She then turns the tables on the flirt and suggests they dance with her coworkers instead. We’re trying to get our workplaces made safer for everyone.

Reagan is one of a handful of ex-workers at Star Garden who has been on strike outside the establishment for the past six months. The dancers have been picketing outside the building, staging costumed runway shows, and discouraging consumers from entering the establishment ever since.

They claim dancers are recorded without their permission and that their employment is subject to quotas and other forms of discrimination based on appearance or other subjective criteria. Two dancers claim they were terminated after they raised safety issues with management and received no satisfactory responses. The dismissals served as the final straw that prompted a group of dancers at Star Garden to take the initiative to form a union.

Fifteen of Star Garden’s then-twenty-three workers handed a petition to the club’s owners on March 18 laying out their demands. The dancers claimed that when they tried to meet with their managers the following day to discuss their concerns, they were kept out of the club.

For this report, NPR spoke with eight dancers, all of whom claimed to be contract employees who were wrongfully let off after raising privacy and safety issues with management. To ensure their safety and anonymity, they requested that NPR exclusively use their stage names while reporting on their interview. The dancers all agreed that the term “stripper” accurately describes their profession and that they use it interchangeably with “dancer.”

All the dancers NPR spoke to reported similar, if not worse, working conditions at other clubs. They say that Star Garden is unlike any other club since it has the personality and dancing camaraderie of a Lynchian dive bar. Because of this, they claim, they are prepared to push so aggressively for improved working conditions.

They used an unorthodox tack that worked. The dancers were on strike for several months until finally filing for a union election in August through the Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents Broadway actors and stage managers. Actors’ Equity’s attorneys will need to persuade the National Labor Relations Board that the locked-out dancers are employees who were unlawfully discharged before the unionization process can begin.

Union general counsel Andrea Hoeschen argued that strippers require union privileges for the same myriad of reasons as performers and stage managers.

Hoeschen told NPR that the issues he was concerned about included “safety onstage, safe backstage areas, sanitary backstage areas, having the employer take some responsibility for the behavior of audience members, making sure people aren’t filmed or harassed by audience members,” and “accountability on the part of the employer when any of those problems arise.”

Actors’ Equity, which represents more than 51,000 workers, claims that the Star Garden workers would be the only strippers in the United States to be represented by a union if the dancers were successful in their unionization efforts.

This is not the first time that a group of strippers has decided to form a union. The Star Garden dancers’ decision to unionize was directly influenced by the strippers at the now-defunct San Francisco peep show, the Lusty Lady, who successfully organized and joined the Service Employees International Union twenty-five years ago.

The Lusty Lady strippers, who had previously bought out the Star Garden in 2003, said that a co-op strip club is an ultimate goal. However, the club was forced to close in 2013 because to increasing rent costs and the competition from online pornography.

The dancers at Star Garden are just one group of workers who have been advocating for unionization and stronger worker rights in recent months.

A COVID aftershock, Reagan declared categorically. Returning workers “are just recognizing what they’re worth and realizing what they deserve,” says one observer.

NPR has tried repeatedly to contact the club’s owners, Stepan “Steve” Kazaryan and Yevgeny “Jenny” Kazaryan, but they have not returned our calls. Multiple attempts to reach the club’s purported attorney, Joshua Kaplan, went unanswered.

The dancers have taken to the street in an effort to disrupt the club’s finances for the time being.

According to the dancers, their efforts to discourage customers usually succeed. Only one carload of pals made it into the nightclub that night, though.

The former first lady shrugged and stated, “Everyone requires a different touch.”