Strippers at North Hollywood bar win approval for unionization vote

 A dancer who goes by the stage name Reagan and others rally outside Star Garden Topless Dive Bar.
Protesters gather outside Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in North Hollywood in March.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Strippers at a North Hollywood bar will be allowed to vote in a mail-in ballot election over whether to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board confirmed this week.

The board ruled Thursday that the Star Garden workers at the low-key North Hollywood dive bar were eligible to be represented by the Actors’ Equity Assn. The decision follows months of protesting and picketing outside the establishment by dancers.

If the dancers vote to join the union, it would be the first time strip club dancers in the country joined a guild since 1996.


One dancer who goes by the stage name Reagan called the decision “a much-needed boost” after nearly seven months of picketing.

“We were really starting to feel some fatigue set in, going for so long without some definite progress was taking a toll on our energy and optimism,” Reagan said. “Finally, finally after all this time there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Reagan was fired from Star Garden in late February after she raised concerns about a customer’s possessive behavior that made her feel unsafe to the bartender working that night.

The bartender, who at the time was acting as manager, dismissed her concerns and they got into a heated argument, Reagan said. When she arrived a few days later on Feb. 23 for her next scheduled shift, Star Garden owner Stepan Kazaryan sent her home unceremoniously, according to written testimony submitted by dancers to the NLRB.

“We’re feeling very confident,” Reagan said of the scheduled election and ballot count.

She anticipates the results of the election will come down to challenged ballots: which fired workers and replacement workers hired by Star Garden in recent months will be considered eligible.

To qualify for a union election, the petitioning workers had to prove that the club pulls in $500,000 in revenue in a year and that it also engages in sufficient interstate commerce.


Mori Rubin, a regional director with the NLRB, found that Star Garden met those requirements, despite the manager disputing them.

“Every worker who wants a union deserves a union, including the live performers in strip clubs. This decision moves us one step closer,” said Kate Shindle, president of the Actors’ Equity Assn. “Equity is eager to join them at the bargaining table to secure a contract that provides protections against discrimination and harassment, addresses health and safety concerns, and spells out wages, benefits and other specifics.”

The NLRB decision comes after tensions have escalated between dancers and management in recent months. In March, 15 of the 23 dancers at the club signed a petition sent to management demanding better working conditions.

“We demand to be treated with basic dignity and humanity at work,” the petition said.

Most of the dancers who signed said that management did not allow them to enter work the next day.

The dingy bar was catapulted into the public arena earlier this year when former dancers began picketing outside the establishment, dissuading potential patrons from entering by informing them of allegedly unsafe conditions and management’s laid-back attitude toward dangerous patron behavior.

They also told people considering entering that dancers were unfairly fired.

Eight dancers told The Times in interviews that management told security not to interfere when customers threatened dancers.


Star Garden charges $30 for a lap dance for a single song, $40 for a lap dance for two songs and $100 for a 15-minute “VIP” dance in a semi-secluded area, according to evidence submitted to the NLRB.

The NLRB will send out ballots to the stipulated unit on Oct. 14, and ballots will be counted on Nov. 7.

An attorney for Star Garden did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.