Strippers have the right to basic employment benefits, according to the Kansas Supreme Court. The recent ruling follows a former exotic dancer filing an unemployment claim against Club Orleans of Topeka — seven years ago. It might have taken a while, but the decision establishes that the state’s strip clubs cannot treat dancers as independent contractors, as adult venues typically do throughout the country.
As Melissa Gira Grant explained in the Atlantic last year, “By managing dancers like employees but putting them on the books as independent contractors, club owners get out of paying dancers the benefits they’re legally entitled to, which could include worker’s compensation, unemployment, and health insurance if they qualify.” It also allows club owners to charge dancers “stage fees” and require tip-sharing.
So this development in Kansas — along with several similar settlements and rulings around the country — are great, right? Yay for labor rights!
But it’s not so simple, says Bubbles Burbujas, a dancer and co-founder of the blog Tits and Sass. “Once you are classified as an employee, the money you receive for private dances and on stage can be considered as money paid to the club for a service, and therefore the club gets to decide what percentage of that you might get to keep,” she tells me in an email. “In every club where one of these lawsuits has succeeded, the end result has been that the amount the dancers pay out to the club increased.” That isn’t to say that life as an independent contractor is great either, though. “There’s really no winning here, and that isn’t a failing of the clubs,” she says, “it’s a failing of labor law and its enforcement in this country.”
Grant calls it “an important ruling,” but agrees that the real-world impact is uncertain: “Enforcement is the big unknown in these labor cases, as it’s not always clear who will actually follow through,” she says in an email. “If dancers speak up and try to hold the clubs accountable to these decisions, how will they be protected from retaliation?”