EXOTIC DANCERS UNION
SEIU LOCAL 790
1390 Market St., Suite 1118
San Francisco,CA 94102
(510) 465-0122 x461
Here's some information about how we ran our campaign, hopefully you
can learn from our mistakes. Some of these suggestions might work
for your situation, some might not. A lot of this information won't be of much
immediate help to you if the club you work for classifies
its dancers as "independent contractors," and charges its workers
"stage fees" or "booking fees" to come to work.
contractors" are not covered by the laws that guarantee workers with
"employee status" the right to unionize. As you're probably aware,
exotic dancers across the country have been filing class-action
lawsuits against their "employers," for illegally calling them
"independent contractors" and denying them the rights and benefits
(like wages, workers' compensation insurance and the right to
organize) they should be entitled to as employees. Unfortunately,
"independent contractors" need to sue for employee status before they
can even attempt to unionize, and this is a years-long
- Try to put together a list of names and phone numbers, and set up
system to communicate with each other. At our theater, every dancer
has a locker, and we would distribute flyers to every locker when we
needed to get out important information quickly. Management will try
to divide you and spread misinformation and anti-union rumors, so it's
to your advantage to communicate to dancers before management
does, even warn them about the misleading information employers are
known to spread during union-busting campaigns. We would keep
detailed accounts of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearings,
meeting notes and "evidence" to support any claims we made in flyers
in a "red binder" in the dressing room, so people could read the details
if they wanted to, but don't bother distributing arcane, technical,
legal-speak stuff (like NLRB decisions) to people individually. Unless
they went to the hearings, they won't understand it. Try to "translate"
the main points into flyers and distribute those. And keep copies of
everything because management might try to steal the stuff you
distribute or put in the red binder.
- The amount of paper that gets generated can get out of hand, so
try to keep it to a minimum, otherwise people get burned out and won't
read it. Try to keep flyers to a page or half-page size, and use large
font or bold print -- people are more likely to read things that are
short and clear. Keep in mind that management will read and xerox
everything you print, and give copies to their lawyers who will try to
find ways to use what you write against you.
- Read Confessions of a Union-Buster by Martin J. Levitt. This boo is by a former union-busting "consultant" who denounced his profession and wrote a book about the tricks of his trade. The
information in this book is indispensable and it will help you
anticipate and prepare for management's next move. Our management
followed the union-busting script chapter and verse.
- Try not to alienate new dancers who get hired during the campaign, or old dancers who were skeptical. Management will look for ways to divide you and they don't need your help. Write a letter to give to new dancers as they're hired that explains your issues and why you want to unionize, and provide some historical background; how have worker-management relations been in the recent past and how have things been unfair?
- Expect management to lie, manipulate history and "the facts." If you work for unsavory sleazeballs, their behavior probably won't shock you. But if you're accustomed to cordial honesty from your employer, it may be hard to get used to routine deceipt. Ignorance is bliss. People don't like to think that they're being lied to, manipulated, deceived, and the organizers sometimes come off as paranoid lunatics constantly screaming at people to open their eyes. Go gently here, especially when you're talking to loyal management favorites, or new dancers unfamiliar with the dispute. In our case, management went on a hiring frenzy, and during the campaign hired a new dancer every 2 or 3 days in an effort to destroy our majority. They held mandatory meetings with the new dancers, and lied to them about why we decided to organize.
- Expect management to break the law and make threats. In our case they threatened to fire some of the organizers, not for union activity of course, but for "legitimate" reasons they invented. The law firm the Lusty Lady hired specializes in disguising illegal threats as mandates of federal labor law. Sounds crazy, but it's a sick art. We included their flyers in this packet.
- The federal agency charged with policing employers who break labor laws is the National Labor Relations Board, and it usually won't be an ally. When you file an unfair labor practice charge against management for violating the law, the punishment, if any usually takes effect long after the fact.
- The union you end up asking to represent you has probably never represented strippers before, don't be afraid to disagree with their suggestions if your instincts say they won't fly with your workforce. Traditional organizing strategies and methods that work elsewhere could be disastrous if applied to your situation. For example, not every stripper wants the whole world to know what she does for a living, so home visits from union organizers and publicity rallies probably aren't good ideas.
When you get in touch with a union (try the Service Employees International Union), they can give you more details about the steps it takes to unionize, but here's a brief chronology of events so you can get a sense of how this process works. Keep in mind that management will probably fight and stall through each step.
- You need at least a majority to sign union cards in order to qualify for union representation. It's better to get as many as possible; the stronger your majority, the more power you have. Do this secretly; the longer you keep management ignorant of your plans to unionize, the less time they have to stop you.
- Once you have a majority signed up, a union organizer will call management and ask them to recognize the union. Most employers refuse to even talk to a union organizer on the phone, and most refuse to recognize the union. But in the rare instance that they do, you can go straight to contract negotiations.
- After management says they refuse to recognize the union, you petition the NLRB to set an election date. Once you petition for an election, the NLRB will eventually set a date, but not until management's lawyers have exhausted every stalling tactic. In our case, we petitioned for an election in mid-June, but our election wasn't held until August 29-30, and the date wasn't set until the beginning of August because management's attorneys stalled through two NLRB hearings making legally-groundless, but lengthy arguments that SEIU, Local 790 was not a labor organization qualified to represent us (complete bullshit). The NLRB eventually ruled that our union was indeed qualified to represent us, but it took them weeks to come to that decision. In the meantime, management had been recruiting new dancers and spreading more anti-union propaganda at work. The stalling bought them more time to try to discredit us and destroy our majority.
- The NLRB sets an election date.
- Win the election. If a majority votes for the union, the employer must, by law, recognize the union.
- Negotiate a contract. If you vote for union representation, the employer must, by law, negotiate a contract with the union "in good faith." "Good faith" bargaining means an employer must come to the negotiating table with the intent to come to an agreement on a contract. If an employer is stubborn and wants to make things difficult for the union, there are a variety of union-busting tactics that can be used during contract negotiations. Management's lawyers can file groundless "objections" to the election, and waste time arguing to the NLRB that the election results aren't really legitimate because of x, y or z. Management can bargain in "bad faith." This is illegal, but difficult to prove. If you managed to win the election with your jobs intact, management may decide to start firing the organizers during contract negotiations. (This happened in our case.)
Sound easy enough? Dancers from strip joints all over the country have been calling our union, and we're sending them the same information we're sending you in hopes that we can establish some kind of network nationwide. Keep in touch, tell us how things are going if you manage to get something off the ground. Call if you need more information.
EXOTIC DANCERS UNION