Portland Stripper Strike organizers say clubs retaliated
Two dancers who demanded an end to race-based discrimination at Portland area strip clubs say they were blacklisted from performing for organizing in the workplace.
A lawyer representing Cat Hollis and Charlie Bronwyn announced Nov. 17 they will file charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Club 205 and the Venue Gentlemen's Club.
"None of the demands that we made this summer were not already the law," Hollis said in a phone interview. "We were offering them the resources to help them get in line, and then they fired me."
The case may hinge on whether the NLRB agrees that Hollis and Bronwyn were actually employees, not independent contractors — as federal labor law does not apply to contractors. In July of this year, a NLRB judge found that a wrongfully terminated Ohio stripper wasn't given enough autonomy to qualify as a contractor, citing the club's "extensive rules, expectations, supervision, fines and penalties."
Hollis says Club 205 allegedly raised the fee for performers who don't comply with scheduling rules to $75, and also charges a cost to perform, known as a stage fee, of $25 plus a portion of lapdances sold. She says the club was slow to respond when she alerted them of a roach infestation as well.
"I want other dancers to know that a sign in the dressing room doesn't change your contract," Hollis said. "Take a picture of your contract when you sign it, because they will not give you a copy."
Local dancers say some clubs won't hire dark-skinned dancers, or only offer them day shifts, the Tribune reported earlier this year. Hollis began organizing the PDX Stripper Strike, a project of the Haymarket Pole Collective, to push back, gathering more than 150 performers for a rally in downtown Portland this summer.
But when shutdown measures ended and strip clubs reopened, Hollis says Club 205 mangers never responded to her messages. Bronwyn described similar circumstances.
"As soon as I advocated for the Venue to consider hiring equity practices and to improve the experience of Black strippers at the club, the management turned on me," said Bronwyn, who was fired in July. "They stopped putting me on the schedule or responding to my texts and calls."
Haymarket Pole is distributing COVID-19 relief grants to strippers and sex workers after receiving $600,000 in federal funding. Hollis knows all about the program: she wrote the grant, and as an administrator of it is ineligible to receive assistance.
She said more than 1,500 sex workers and strippers in Oregon applied, but less than a quarter will receive money due to the limited funding.
If the NLRB found in favor of the performers' claims of retaliation, they would be rehired and eligible for back wages, according to their attorney, Corinna Spencer-Scheurich of the Northwest Workers' Justice Project.
"The thing that I'm really excited about is they'd have to put flyers up telling other dancers about their right to organize," Hollis said.
Neither club immediately responded to the Tribune's request for comment.
Follow me on Twitter
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.