Strippers Lobby for Improved Working Conditions in Oregon

Strippers around the country have been fighting for improved working environments, some have formed unions and some have sued, but in Oregon the entertainers are working directly with state legislators.

"The hardest part about being a stripper is battling the stigma that we are victims that need help from outsiders," said Elle Stanger, a stripper who's been active in the movement. "It doesn't matter if you work in education, clergy, any kind of blue collar work — the people who do the work know what the work environment needs."

Ellen Stanger:

Elle Stanger

Stanger, who is also assistant editor of the local publication Exotic Magazine, says the conditions in many clubs are dismal.

"Some of the buildings are literally dilapidated and not maintained," Stanger said. "You have entertainers that could injure themselves from broken glass on the stage, poor wiring with the sound system. We just want to get these workplaces up to a minimum safety standard at least."

Not all club owners are bad -- some take the dancers' safety seriously. Claude DaCorsi, a club operator and president of the Oregon chapter of the Association of Club Executives, an industry association, said: "We're here to protect and make safe environments for entertainers. They're the reason we exist."

The strippers are looking for improvements on several fronts.

Ideally, they want to see strip clubs comply with mandatory health and safety standards — clean stages, structurally sound poles, adequate security. But that could be a tough sell in the Legislature.

More realistically, they plan to push for a mandate that clubs display a poster outlining dancers' rights with a hotline they can call to ask questions or report abuses. They want the hotline to be staffed by people with experience in the industry, not bureaucrats or law enforcement.

Strippers work as independent contractors. They pay a fee to the club and other support staff. As contractors, they do not get benefits or pay payroll taxes.

The local government has little control over the strip clubs. "Three times between 1994 and 2000, voters rejected constitutional amendments that would have allowed strip club crackdowns."

That means the government can't say where clubs can go, how much clothing dancers must wear or how close they're allowed to get to customers. Strip clubs can't be treated any differently than other places that serve food or alcohol.