Archives de Tag: EDA

In 1993, several members of COYOTE splintered off to found the Exotic Dancer’s Alliance (EDA), targeting their protests at unfair labor practices in the city’s erotic theaters. Partnering with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 790, the women sought to combat troubling health and safety issues in the clubs as well as the implementation of mandatory “stage fees” for club employees. According to EDA activists, the stage fees effectively transformed the theaters into clandestine, pimp-managed brothels, compromising their freedom and their safety. Indeed, some of the newest crop of performers or “independent contractors” in these refurbished commercial venues were the same women who had previously engaged in prostitution on Tenderloin streets. Though tacit, the reorganization of the clubs was ensured by the construction of “private rooms” as well as through the implementation of a system of steep stage fees. The creation of private rooms in the strip clubs—cubicles featuring a bench, sofa, or bed cordoned off from the rest of the club by opaque curtains or even a door—occurred simultaneously with the sudden imposition of the stage fees, whereby dancers were reclassified as “independent contractors” (rather than employees) and were required to pay fees of up to $200 per shift in order to be able to work. Since the stage fees were often more than women would earn from an entire evening’s worth of striptease performances and lap dances, club management explicitly encouraged dancers to take their clients into the private rooms where they could engage in more “lucrative” activities.4
Rather than regarding these exploitative conditions as intrinsic to sexualized labor and fighting for its elimination (as their abolitionist feminist peers might have done), the members of the EDA instead sought to reform the industry from within by arguing for exotic dancers’ rights as workers. Numerous EDA members filed wage and hour claims with the California Labor Commission, culminating in a successful class action lawsuit against one of the largest erotic theaters in the city, the Market Street Cinema. As described by former dancer-activist Heidi M. Kooy, “The courts ruled that … employers were required to pay at least minimum wage for hours worked; and that requiring dancers to pay stage fees was illegal. The California Labor Commission later reiterated the San Francisco court’s ruling, outlawing clubs throughout the state from charging dancers for the right to make a living.”5 The trend toward the normalization and legitimation of sexual labor as labor appeared to advance still further in 1996, when the city’s only “women- owned, women-managed” erotic theater, the Lusty Lady, became the first fully unionized exotic dancing venue in the nation.6

Elizabeth Bernstein, Temporarily Yours, Intimacy, Authenticity and the Commerce of Sex, The University of Chicago, 2007, p.  72-73