Strippers: Independent Contractors or Employees?

A dancer recently wrote this piece for the most recent issue of Exotic Magazine: “Minimum Wage Strippers?

I have so many issues with her, and I plan to email the magazine with my response in the hopes that they print in. (They probably won’t, but at least I’ll have tried to make my perspective heard.) It seems like she completely missed the point of the whole conversation. I remember during the meeting that we both attended, she agreed that dancers should be considered either independent contractors or employees, and yet she doesn’t even mention this in her article.

Here’s my response (so far; J has yet to proofread it for me):

“In response to Elle Stanger’s “Minimum Wage Strippers?” I have some comments:

Legally, workers are eitheremployees or independent contractors. Right now, strippers in Oregon are classified as independent contractors. Yet, many of the clubs in Portland treat strippers as employees. Clubs cannot have their cake and eat it too. Strippers deserve fair working conditions, whether that is as employees or independent contractors. Ideally, clubs could decide for themselves whether they want to classify strippers as employees or independent contractors, depending on their environment and financial structure.

Tax-wise, it is illegal to not file your taxes, regardless of how much you make. The IRS can perform an audit on anyone; there isn’t some magical line of income that determines whether or not you can be audited. Small business owner taxes are really high, and it doesn’t feel fair to many strippers, many of whom don’t make a ton of money, to pay those. Yes, as an employee you would be required to pay taxes. But your taxes would be far less than an independent contractor’s. And you wouldn’t be risking an audit.

I don’t know if it would be great for strippers to be classified as employees, because I really don’t know how that might impact their total income and the tipping structure. But, it is not fair for clubs to exert the control they do (outfit and shoes, pubic hair, music, stage performance, private dance guidelines, mandatory tip-outs, etc.) without then giving strippers the benefits that accompany that kind of control (sick leave, workers compensation, unemployment, etc.). Clubs need to be held accountable for how they treat their workers.

As a stripper myself, I understand that some strippers do profit from the system as it is now. However, I think that many strippers would benefit more from clubs sticking to one clear system or the other. I think it is demoralizing to be controlled in the ways that I am at work, without also receiving the benefits of an employee. Let me work the way I want to (don’t regulate my outfit, force me to pay your other employees money, or force me to dance to your music), or control my behavior (which you already do) and give me some real perks.” 

To her credit, the same author wrote a piece for the same issue about a newly formed sex worker coalition, called the Dancers’ Initiation Coalition. The Coalition aims to promote the health and safety of dancers and sex workers in Portland through education and outreach, including connecting them to legal services. I am impressed with the mission of the DIC and excited to get in touch with the founders and see what they have planned for the organization.

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