Strippers Say Contract Is Too Skimpy

Exotic dancers, who go by the names Pixie, left, and Asia, hug following a rally Monday, Dec. 2, 2002, in San Francisco. Strippers at The Lusty Lady, currently in contract negotations with their employer, complain the establishment is trying to cut wages and reduce sick time benefits.
Workers at the nation's only unionized peep show walked the picket line, arguing that a contract offer by management at the Lusty Lady is too skimpy.

Wearing pink T-shirts that read "Bad girls like good contracts," dancers banged on pots Monday and chanted, "Two, four, six, eight, pay me more to gyrate!"

"We want respect," said Vivian, 27, who has worked at the Lusty Lady, in San Francisco's touristy North Beach district, for a year and a half.

The dancers are complaining the club's latest contract offer cuts hourly wages and eliminates their one day of sick pay. Sick pay was one of the victories the union won when workers approved their first contract with management in 1997, a year after unionizing.

The Exotic Dancers Union, a chapter of the Service Employees International Union, Local 790, wants management to restore $3 an hour in pay cuts made during the past 20 months, back to a top scale of $27 an hour. The club said the cuts were "revenue-based," but dancers say management has failed to justify the cuts financially by opening the club's books.

The union also wants the club to institute a hiring cap so there are enough shifts to go around, and to change the way schedules are made.

A man who answered the phone at the Lusty Lady refused comment.

"We are grossly under-compensated," said Pepper, 31, a dancer and union shop steward. Though she's worked at the Lusty Lady for four and a half years, Pepper said she's only able to get about 12 hours a week of work at the club, less than the 20 hours she'd like.

"It's not enough to survive on," she said.

The club uses its unionized status as a selling point, boasting on its answering machine that it is "San Francisco's only peep show where you can be sure the dancers will be beautiful, smart and unionized."

"They use the union to promote the club, yet they don't support it," said Vivian. "It feels like exploitation."

By Michelle R. Smith