And, now, for a departure from the ordinary of the blog. Herein we have no cigars, no Christmas ties, no excuses for why books take so long to finish, no terrorism, and only the slightest implied hatred of government.
I used to frequent gentlemen’s clubs on occasion. There are two of them in Athens. Well, there were two some twenty years ago. I’ll get to my ancient reminiscing shortly.
The whole Athens, 90s, go-go scene returned to mind as I read a recent article in The Baltimore Sun. Exotic dancers are legally changing the way they work and the way they’re paid.
Dancers at strip clubs have long been considered “independent contractors” whose wages consist solely of tips. But a wave of lawsuits against clubs across the country — including in Baltimore, New York, Atlanta, San Diego and Denver — has challenged that, and legal victories in Maryland and elsewhere have added dancers to payrolls at some clubs.
In New York City, more than 2,000 dancers who worked at Rick’s Cabaret between 2005 and 2012 were awarded $10.9 million in a class-action lawsuit they brought against their employer.
Cari Tabor, who sued the Baltimore club Scores in 2014, said that on a good night, she could make $1,000 in tips. But sometimes she didn’t make enough to cover fees charged by the club. She said a minimum wage helps make sure employees are being compensated for their time.
“It’s a base start,” she said.
Historically, strip clubs have treated dancers differently from other staff when it comes to pay.
“It’s always been that way until recent cases. If you were a bar or a nightclub and hired a band, or comedians, you wouldn’t think of those entertainers as employees,” said Baltimore attorney Peter Prevas, who has represented several clubs, including Chez Joey in Gamble’s lawsuit.
Prevas said when strip clubs bring in adult film stars to dance for a limited engagement, they are not considered employees, either.
“The industry has always treated it that way,” he said.
Prevas said he first started seeing the pay lawsuits about five years ago. He said paying dancers a regular wage is a large expense that could potentially put some clubs out of business.
“It’s all over the country,” he said. “I read all the reported cases all over the country, and there’s lots.”
Andrew Alley, owner of Scores Baltimore, declined to comment on specific cases, but said the lawsuits are driven by attorneys looking to make money.
Tabor, 38, said in her lawsuit against Scores that she was charged “house fees” during each shift she worked. Her suit also alleged that she could be charged for gaining weight.
“There’s plenty nights where you have to pay $80 to work that night,” said Tabor, who said she began stripping when she was 17 but has since stopped.
“Really, we were the ones making them money,” she said.
This is an industry rank with just about every abuse possible. It’s a little worse than the health club racket and almost as bad as insurance. The atrocity isn’t per se institutional but it is systemic, it’s everywhere and in all things. There are problems with all facets and most people in the business. I saw a little of this back in Athens.
I lived for a few years in what might best be described as a college students’ slum. Back then it was great. Standards were low then. One day I was doing laundry when in walked a girl from one of those two clubs. I had met her one of twice before. We talked. As it turns out she was my next door (kind of around the corner) neighbor. In fact, I had three dancer neighbors.
We shall call the three roomies: “Star,” “Roxy,” and “Mercedes”. Or “the girls”. “My girls”. We became friends. Through them I met pretty much all of the other girls at the club and the managers. I also knew all of the bouncers because I worked out with them at the old Gold’s Gym on Alps Road. Knowing everyone in a strip club makes things easy on a part-time patron. It also makes the whole experience mundane, which is the polar opposite of what one would expect (especially a single 22-year-old male). That’s part of the reason I gave up the place.
Anyway, all three of “my girls” were as sweet as possible. Really, nicer young ladies were not to be found. Nor more attractive. I have no idea how they were paid back then but I suspect it was all tips. They each made a small weekly fortune. And they were constantly broke.
Similar to the woman in Baltimore, any of my girls could have made $1,000 per night. Given schedule inconsistency and the fact that this was 20 years ago, it was probably more like $500 per night. Still great money in 1996.
The three probably brought in (and I’m wildly guessing here) $5,000 per week. And yet between the three of them they did not have a car. They caught rides in taxis, from other dancers, someone’s mom, “boyfriends” (meaning suckers), and sometimes with me. I was not a sucker because my taxiing usually came with at least free admission and a few drinks.
I found that a little odd. The lack of a car, not my freebies. Each sweetie had a valid license. No DUIs that I knew of. Plenty of cash. So, why no car? Like I said, they were perpetually broke.
The financial straits might have had something to do with Mount Versace. Where the girls’ dining room should have been there existed a pile, 7 1/2 feet tall, of fancy, worn only once-then discarded, new designer clothes. Star’s visit to the laundry room had been an anomaly.
They spent every penny they made. My apartment was around $250 each month. Theirs could not have been much more. They had power. They seemed well fed. I suppose all the rest was spent at the mall.
Where was I? This one really has no starting point, ending point, or point in general.
As I mentioned, this particular business is notorious for shadiness. All things being equal I prefer being an independent contractor. Most employers and the IRS hate this idea. I hate them right back. Many of these clubs try hard to cheat the ladies. Many of the ladies try hard to cheat the clubs. I really can’t form an opinion on this matter beyond that (shocking, yes!).
If I ran such an establishment, and thank God I do not, I would pay with a hybrid system. I would provide a base “draw” salary which the ladies would be expected to exceed and replace in tips. I also would not charge them any BS fees.
None of this would at all change the nature of the business. Ultimately, people do what they want to. And they come and go. I left it all in Athens. I imagine all three of “my girls” did as well.
Herein I got to run together current events news with an old memory. I suppose that what struck me about the Sun story was the feeling I would have never wanted my sweet neighbors cheated financially, even though they regularly did that to themselves. And I hope all of this works out well for everyone involved.
There. That’s as much of a point or moral as you get from this ramble.