Don't Swear. Don't Slouch. When in Doubt, Smile
from Queens of The Tenderloin
That's what one of the signs at Centerfolds says. Yes, I'm a showgirl at San Francisco's newest club owned by, surprise— Sam Conti. It seems Sam owns the Cinema, New Century and Regal even though his name isn't listed as proprietor of Happy or Popular Properties, the private owned corporations operating these adult theaters. Women who make the ill-fated decision to audition at Centerfolds can't happily grind away at these clubs unless they agree to work at Centerfolds. List of women's names appear at the Cinema and New Century the week that Centerfolds opened- these women will be denied shifts until they talk to Isabella. It seemed strange to me that I was essentially being forced to be a showgirl when I was content to remain a sleazy lap dancing queen. When I auditioned, I thought it would be a nice change- none of us, I'm sure will mourn the day we stop lap dancing. Then I attended two mandatory meetings and a dress rehearsal the night before the club opened. During those meetings and dress rehearsal, I got to know Sam Conti a bit— no, I didn't speak with him one on one_ I listened to him ramble for hours and occasionally insult a dancer if she asked a question. No thanks, I thought. I thought that, because I am an "independent contractor, I could choose where I work in this town— ha ha ha ha heh he ha ha.
A little History
A year ago Sam Conti applied for a license from the San Francisco Police department for his dream club, Centerfolds. Because Centerfolds serves alcohol and food, it is considered a cabaret. Back when Diane Feinstein was mayor, cabarets and adult theaters were both required to obtain licenses from the police department. On Friday, January 25, 1985 at 4 PM "...the Market Street Cinema was raided. Eleven women were arrested and charged with lewd conduct because they would take money to sit in a customer's lap where they would gyrate in mock-intercourse." the police report said. (oh my!) The court order issued against the cinema prohibited any performer from leaving the stage area to contact or mingle with the patrons or customers." On February 1, 1985, five days after the Cinema bust, Marilyn Chambers was charged with soliciting prostitution and engaging in lewd conduct at The Mitchell Brothers. Coincidentally (Ha ha ha) the Board of Supervisors was soon to vote on an ordinance that would end the licensing of adult theaters. Four days after vice cops raided Mitchell Brothers, the Supervisors voted 8-3 to abolish license requirements for adult theaters and instead, require adult theater operators to acquire a permit (which is very different from a license) from the Fire Department. unlike the police codes specific and explicit regulations on "entertainment," the Fire Department's Place of Public Assembly Public Assembly Permit has no specific regulations about what an "entertainer" may do— it mostly has regulations about how far apart the seats have to be and how wide the aisles should be, etc.
The police codes regulating the "entertainment" prohibit a number of activities. For example, Section 1060.9 of the police code states "No professional entertainer or employee may dance with any customer on the premises in any place of entertainment." When the Century opened in 1989, the Chronicle did a story on it and of the lap dancing part-owner James Caruba said, "Last time I looked, it was still legal." Where did he look? It seems the regulation of adult theaters hinges upon the owners relationship to vide police officers and the fire department. Fire fighters are given free admittance to Mitchell Brothers and we've all dealt with drooling uniformed policeman checking us out, not to mention undercovers propositioning loudly. I guess all this distresses me because I can get busted if the political climate changes, if I unwittingly say in dollars how much I want for doing a lap dance, if my pimps (the club owners) don't grease the right palms. They create the conditions we work under. They advertise, promote and profit off an activity that's most-likely-illegal, we could get arrested for- and that's fucked up.
Maybe lap dancing is quasi legal, but calling us independent contractors against the law. To determine whether or not a person is an independent contractor or an employee, California uses the "right to control" test. Every woman who is threatened termination if she doesn't work at Centerfolds has a winnable case before the labor commissioner because this coercion proves that she's treated as an employee and denied the bargaining power of an independent contractor. The contract we sign at the Cinema says the performers "markets his or herself as a professional entertainer, available to provide performances and does, in fact, provide performances at other locations without restriction, supervision, or control by the theater. Employers are warned not to destroy the independent contractor status ,"by exercising control over the means of accomplishing the work." "EMPLOYERS SHOULD BE AWARE THAT DAMAGES AND PENALTIES CAN EXTEND TO TAX WITHHOLDING, UNEMPLOYMENT, INSURANCE CONTRIBUTIONS, WORKERS COMPNSATION CONTRIBUTIONS, OVERTIME, MINIUMUM WAGE, ETC. " I, myself, could use two plus years of minimum wage and a refund for my stage fees, and a reimbursement for half the taxes I paid on my tips.
But I'm chicken. So I'll anonymously grip for a while longer until I win the lottery and can afford to legally challenge my indentured sfrom all the clubs in town. A new policy is that "showgirls" who are caught allowing men to touch them will be fined ten bucks per infraction. Okay— there is nothing worse than being exploited by somebody stupid— it sounds like a sure fire pimping and pandering bust— we can only hope.