A couple weeks ago I caught an NPR story about a group of strippers at a bar in LA who were working to unionize under the auspices of Actors’ Equity Association. The dancers had been dismissed and locked out after complaining and petitioning the bar’s ownership to improve working conditions, both in terms of the physical performance environment and protection from aggressive clients. After months of striking outside the bar’s parking lot, the dancers filed to join Actors’ Equity.
One of the reasons why this story grabbed my attention was that I made a post in 2021 about how Actors’ Equity had decided to significantly lower the barriers to union membership. The union essentially provided automatic membership to members of sister unions like SAG-AFTRA, AGMA and AGVA as well as anyone who was enrolled in the union candidate program. The candidate program, which required accumulating points for performing in specific types of roles in venues operating under a union classification, was scrapped in favor of the new Open Access program which just requires that you have worked professionally as an actor or stage manager in the United States.
In reviewing the program, I noticed Open Access membership is only available until May 2023 so we will have to see how membership is handled after that. However, I initially viewed the union’s willingness to go to bat for these dancers as an extension of the Open Access program. They didn’t nudge the performers toward other unions like AVGA which represents variety/cabaret performers or SEIU which the NPR story says another group of strippers joined about 25 years ago. I similarly wondered why the dancers approached Equity rather than another union. Was it due to the union’s presence in small performance venues in LA or perhaps Open Access has made the union appear more welcoming.
It will be interesting to see how the efforts of the dancers to unionize ends up. Likewise, I will try to keep an eye for more news on the Open Access program to see if it continues/evolves after May 2023 and if the effort achieves the diversity, equity and inclusion goals Actors’ Equity intends.
I should mention, the NPR story doesn’t just report on the strike but includes four discrete profiles of the dancers for additional perspective.