After unionized strippers accused club owner of violating deal, federal labor board intervenes

Three dancers stand beside Actors' Equity Assn. president.
Katherine Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Assn., speaks at a Dec. 7 protest outside North Hollywood bar Star Garden. The nighttime rally marked the beginning of a three-day unfair labor practice strike.
(Suhauna Hussain / Los Angeles Times)

After strippers at Star Garden, a topless dive bar in North Hollywood, won the right to unionize last year, the club’s owner agreed to reopen the club, hire back dancers he had fired, and run the club as it had been before the labor dispute.

Now, however, the National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against the club, alleging it failed to fully follow through and violated the terms of a May 2023 settlement it reached with Actors’ Equity Assn., the union representing the group of about a dozen dancers.

The findings came after union lawyers provided information showing that when the club reopened last year, it substantially changed how it operates, said Andrea F. Hoeschen, general counsel for Actors’ Equity Assn.


The club, which used to be open every day, now opens only three days a week with limited hours and implemented a new cover charge, Hoeschen said. It also cut back the number of dancers who perform, inflated drink prices and stopped accepting cash, Hoeschen added.

“Simply putting out an open sign but running your business vastly different than you used to is vastly not compliant with the settlement terms,” Hoeschen said.

In interviews, three dancers said that how they’re allowed to work had also changed.

“Before, we were allowed to actually give a lap dance,” said a Star Garden dancer who asked to be identified only by her stage name, May. “We could sit on their lap and engage with a customer in a way that’s normal in most clubs. Now we can’t touch a customer literally at all.”

Attorneys representing Star Garden’s owner, Stepan K. Kazaryan, have repeatedly denied that the club has violated terms of the settlement.

“We intend to vigorously oppose this overreach by the board,” attorney Josiah R. Jenkins said.

In a March 19 filing to the NLRB, attorneys representing Star Garden argued that dancers have refused to perform lap dances, depriving the club of income.


“Dancers have engaged in insubordination and egregious violations of the club’s rules, all aimed toward the end of shutting the business down,” the filing read.

In issuing the complaint against the club, the NLRB’s regional director in Los Angeles is asking the federal board to order Star Garden to reopen as under the terms laid out in the settlement agreement, offer dancers compensation for financial losses they may have incurred, physically post a notice of employees’ rights and have a representative of Star Garden read the notice at a meeting with the workers.

Star Garden reopened in August, after a 15-month tussle during which club management fired more than a dozen dancers, contested the results of a union election held by strippers, filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors.

Soon after Star Garden reopened, dancers told The Times that drink prices had ratcheted up, the bar had gone cashless and removed its ATM and management was discouraging customers from tipping with cash. Dancers accused Star Garden management of introducing arbitrary rules and implementing high drink prices and cover fees in bad faith in an effort to deter customers, demoralize dancers and weaken resolve in contract negotiations.

Union attorneys filed multiple unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB alleging club owners were engaging in bad faith bargaining and arbitrarily disciplining employees, among other claims.

On Dec. 7, dancers gathered to protest outside Star Garden. The nighttime rally marked the beginning of a three-day unfair labor practice strike.


In response to a reporter’s request for comment in December on allegations made by dancers and union leadership, An Nguyen Ruda, an attorney representing Kazaryan, denied he had violated the terms of the settlement.

“We vigorously disagree,” Ruda said in an email. “We have asked the dancers to do simple things like respect a schedule, work on work time; not to try to siphon customers away during work time; respect ABC laws. These are all actions which we stand by.”

Ruda also represents management at the Los Angeles Times in union contract negotiations.