SALEM, Ore. >> The hazards strippers can face at work are plentiful: broken glass, holes in the stage, injuries, staph infections.
On Wednesday, a group of dancers traveled to Salem to tell a state legislative committee about those risks and others.
They love their jobs, they said, but also find that dancers are often powerless to take action when their rights are violated.
“Performers have adapted to a broken system because they are afraid that government interference would infringe on their income and the amount of control they have over how they earn it,” Paris Hoover, a Portland dancer, told the House Business and Labor Committee.
Hoover and other dancers have been working for months with lobbyists hired by the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. They have proposed a bill that would require strip clubs and other live entertainment venues — such as music halls and comedy clubs — to display a poster outlining the rights of performers. It would include a hotline that performers could call to report problems.
Claude DaCorsi, a club operator and president of the Oregon chapter of the Association of Club Executives, said he supported the bill and was appalled by some of the conditions he heard dancers describe. The problems tend to come from “a couple rotten apples” who tarnish the industry’s reputation, he said.
“That should not be acceptable by any means,” DaCorsi said. “Listening to that, it’s sickening. The issues that are raised are extreme and are troubling.”
Strippers generally work as independent contractors rather than employees. They pay a stage fee or a portion of their earnings to the management, bartenders, bouncers, DJs and other support staff.
The contractor status means clubs don’t have to pay payroll taxes, provide health insurance or cover workers’ compensation claims if dancers are injured on the job. It also means dancers can’t be managed like employees because they work for themselves.
The dancers told lawmakers they enjoy the freedom that comes with being independent contractors and aren’t interested in being classified as traditional employees. But they do want managers to respect the differences.
Elle Stanger, who has been a stripper in Portland for six years, said she contracted staph infections four times. She said she has been fine since she pointed out the same mop was used in the restroom and the stage, and the manager bought a new one.
“Our biggest concerns tend to be around health and safety,” Stanger said. “In my place of work, I feel neither endangered nor exploited. And yet I have a litany of stories from my less fortunate peers who work in other venues.”
She recounted stories from dancers who described a wide variety of appalling workplace conditions: Women cut by shards of glass, a hole on the stage causing a dancer to break her fingers, and moldy facilities.
Michael Wood, administrator of the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said strip clubs almost never get inspected for safety violations. Lawmakers gasped when he said a typical strip club would come up for an inspection roughly once every 40 years.
“At a construction site, there are signs from OSHA saying what you’re allowed to do to your employees,” said Ray McMillen, a comedian and strip club disc jockey. “If I contract with someone to do my landscaping, I cannot treat him or her with the same amount of negligence and disposability that live entertainers are being treated with.”