Sex Worker Voices
'Nothing About Us, Without Us'
Brandi Campbell is a long time strip club worker and advocate for stripper labor rights. She writes about it on http://StripperLaborRights.com .
In August of 2017, I began working at a strip club called Shakers. When I was hired, Shakers classified dancers as “lease holders.” By the end of my time at the club in December of 2017, they decided to start classifying dancers as employees, starting January 1st. While Shakers will never admit that my pressure had anything to do with the switch, my newest series on StripperLaborRights.com will discuss circumstances surrounding the switch, during the period of time that I worked there. This series will explore each Economic Realities factor of interest at Shakers, and each person of interest within this time frame.
Waverly, Nebraska-- population 3,500-- is home to Shakers. Prior to European arrival, the area was home to indigenous people including the Sioux, Lakota and Pawnee.
Some would describe Shakers as “in the middle of nowhere.” The club is a large pink barn-like structure that sits among miles upon miles of corn, with a freight train running through town, which is across the road parallel to the the club, just a turn off of Cornhusker Highway in the eerie open sky of Eastern Nebraska-- a place where tornadoes brew in the Spring time.
In early 2017, Shakers lost a misclassification suit that it had been fighting. Elizabeth Mays, represented by attorney Kathleen Neary, claimed that she was a misclassified employee at Shaker's while she danced there. Among behaviors dictated to Mays while she worked at Shakers included making dancers clean the bathroom, preventing them from leaving or entering the dressing room whenever they wanted, telling them to “act like ladies,” being subject to song selections and a stage rotation dictated by the Shakers DJ. The judge ruled in Elizabeth Mays's favor, meaning that she was entitled to all of her back wages, fees and staff tips.
Different strip clubs respond to lost misclassification suits in different ways. Larger clubs that can afford to, will usually conduct misclassification business as usual and pay off settlements to make their problems go away on the rare occasion that they arise. After losing a multi-million-dollar class action, Rick's Cabaret chose to correctly classify their dancers, by acknowledging them as employees.
Sometimes after losing a lawsuit, a club will go in a different direction. That direction involves removing most, if not all, of their rules that misclassified employee dancers had to follow prior to the lawsuit. In doing so, the club hopes to avoid future misclassification suits. To a degree, that is the direction that Shaker's chose to go. However, so long as they choose not to call their dancers employees, clubs like this will always be liable for a misclassification suit.
Many employee status experts would argue that there is no way strip club dancers will ever be anything except employees, due to the fact that dancers are an integral part of the business. Even when all of the rules are removed, according to many employee status experts, the dancers are essentially still employees, who could unionize if they ever wanted to. Continuing to classify dancers as non-employees was a risk that Shakers knowingly took after losing their suit. It was a risk that they decided to stop taking after I worked for them-- at least for a while.
Shakers was strip club #69 for me, year #12, state #8, vehicle #4. Blacklisted out of most of my beloved blue state territory, my labor activism and lawsuit fame forced me to resort to dancing in red states. I had been hearing about Shaker's through the grapevine for a few years before they were sued. I forgot that they had been sued until after I started working there. Several transient dancers who I spoke with in places like Colorado, Chicago, Minnesota or Nevada told me the same things-- that Nebraska is boring as hell, but the money is amazing, and that the money at Shaker's was amazing. For a lonely pink barn in the middle of corn, Shaker's is somewhat well known to USA traveling strippers on the open road, because of it's accessibility and ability to provide an economic windfall for women in need. Waverly is just a few minutes away from Lincoln, and for a red state, Lincoln is a relaxed, progressive college town.
I have strong reason to believe that several weeks into my Shakers work life, the staff found out about my history and website. As a result, I had an experience at Shakers that was different than a lot of dancers who worked there. The staff explicitly told me that I didn't have to do things which they gave no explanation to other dancers about, such as participate in stage rotation. For the most part, I participated anyway, but near the end, I was taking them up on their offers not to do stage. I was also exercising other Economic Realities freedoms, in ways that seemed to upset Shakers. New dancers who were unaware of The Economic Realities Test were asking me questions about how I was able to skip stage. I didn't want them to think that I had special privileges, so I began explaining to them that Shakers got sued and that the workplace obligations dancers thought were rules were not legally rules. I created and distributedKnow Your Rights fliers, to notify them that they too could break these rules. Like most strip clubs, Shakers had a core group of loyal dumb scabs who harassed, assaulted, threatened and slandered me in reaction to my speaking out and not conforming. They were all shook up into a frenzied anger, as stripper scabs become when cool things happen that they wish they could have enough confidence to do themselves. It was an extremely tense situation, all the more because Shakers is such a small structure in terms of square footage.
By the end of my time at Shakers, management announced that they would be switching over to employee classification, starting on the first of January when the “lease” contracts expired. It was a Holy Shit moment for me for sure. I never had that happen before. My manager told me that they “had been trying to do it for a few years now.” I don't believe him. It doesn't take years for a small business to make a simple switch to recognize that their workers are employees. I firmly believe that they made the switch because I started talking about their lost lawsuit and I was behaving like a non-employee, spreading non-employee distinctions with fliers throughout the club to encourage other dancers to know their rights.
Their employee switch came with a catch, which they advertised on their facebook. It appeared as though Shakers was intentionally advertising employee status as unappealing, by offering only part time hours that they picked, and other unsavory rules that they didn't need to enforce. I did not stick around to feel what it was like to be an employee dancer at Shakers. They hinted that I may not get the hours that I wanted. This was a threat to my survival. I would not have been unable to sustain myself financially. While I am an amazing hustler, Shakers is a toxic place that was filled with irrational women angry at me for talking about or exercising my rights, so these sad pathetic women did whatever they could to sabotage my income during my last week working there.
About a week after January first, I called Shakers. I wanted to know how the employee status switch was going. The manager informed me that about a week after switching to employee status, the club took the employee status away and began calling dancers “members” of their membership club. I had never heard of such a classification before, but it sounded like some more lease holder misclassification bullshit. After I asked a few more questions, the manager hung up on me. As far as I know, they are currently calling their dancers “members” instead of employees.
This Shakers Studies series will be of interest to any labor law advocate who is wondering how a small club reacts to a lost misclassification suit and subsequently having me come to town. It is interesting from a sociological, anthropological and cultural perspective, because Shakers is a place that was willing to comply with labor laws more than most clubs, but a place where the very workers who are oppressed by widespread dancer misclassification and could have fought for their rights, chose to behave like psychotic freaks instead. No pension, healthcare, paid sick days or job security will ever come to any of the batshit crazy lowlife women who threatened me, my life and my income.
Shakers was a turning point for me, and we will explore the many tentacles of that in the new series: Shakers Studies.