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Washington State Enacts Comprehensive Worker Protections for Strip Club Dancers

“This is a beautiful step towards decriminalization and a huge show of stripper solidarity,” one activist said.

A stripper performs at The Stadium Club in Washington, D.C., on August 4, 2012.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed into law a “Strippers’ Bill of Rights” on Monday, which was celebrated by advocates for its comprehensive worker protections, restrictions on fees imposed by club owners on dancers, and strong incentives for club owners to adhere to regulations.

“Strippers are workers, and they should be given the same rights and protections as any other labor force,” state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D), the bill’s sponsor, said in a press release. “If they are employed at a legal establishment in Washington, they deserve the safeguards that every worker is entitled to, including protection from exploitation, trafficking, and abuse.”

SB 6105 was introduced to address the extensive regulatory gaps affecting dancers working in the 11 adult entertainment clubs across the state. The bill also provides a roadmap for clubs in the state to obtain liquor licenses, as there were concerns that implementing these protections without generating additional revenue from alcohol sales might force some clubs to shut down. Washington was the only state in the country that did not allow alcohol sales at strip clubs.

“Without liquor and without these safety protections, all of the burden was on the workforce, on the dancers,” Saldaña said. “It wasn’t viable and it wasn’t sustainable.”

The bill, SB 6105, requires staff training at establishments to prevent sexual harassment, detect and report human trafficking, defuse conflicts, and administer first aid. It also requires the presence of security personnel on premises, keypad locks on dressing rooms, and emergency buttons in areas where entertainers may be isolated with customers.

“It is crucial that we confront the stigma surrounding adult entertainment and recognize the humanity of those involved in the industry,” Saldaña said.

SB 6105 also strengthens labor protections for dancers in the state who are commonly employed as independent contractors paid by patrons and obligated to cover club fees per shift. This bill will cap the amount of fees club owners can charge per shift to either $150 or 30 percent of dancers’ earnings during their shift.

“The strippers’ bill of rights is precisely what the phrase ‘sex work is work’ is meant to convey: that sex workers ‘should be given the same rights and protections as any other labor force,’ as bill sponsor Rebecca Saldaña put it,” Olivia Snow, dominatrix and researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles, told Truthout. “Regardless of whether you think sex work is ‘real work,’ we deserve the freedom of going to our jobs without the threat of police raids or exploitative club owners.”

Madison Zack-Wu, the campaign manager of Strippers Are Workers (SAW), a dancer-led organization that was founded in 2018 that advocated for SB 6105, told the Stranger that the bill was passed “because dancers started organizing in their clubs more than six years ago. This has been long-awaited, long overdue.”

SAW began organizing for stronger labor protections in 2019, when dancers demanded that lawmakers mandate that clubs install panic buttons and refuse entry to unsafe customers. Dancers also asked that an Adult Entertainer Advisory Committee be created to research other ways to make the industry safer for workers. In 2023, organizers returned to the legislature with a proposal to create liquor licenses specifically for strip clubs, but the House’s Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee declined to schedule a hearing until it was too late for the bill to be passed.

Despite this setback, SAW refused to stop organizing for stronger labor protections and eventually helped introduce the bill, even in the face of concerns that it may not pass. Later, following police raids on two gay bars in Seattle in January, where gay men were ticketed for wearing jockstraps, organizers from SAW and the LGBTQ community joined forces to advocate for changes to laws prohibiting nudity in venues serving alcohol.

“Much like strip clubs, queer venues, burlesque and drag shows, and sex-positive events are subject to intrusive regulations governing attire, the explicit nature of performances, and the presence of alcohol,” a letter to legislators in support of the bill drafted by the Washington queer and stripper communities says. “The current laws in Washington operate under the flawed assumption that entertainment and sexual expression should be policed.”

Sex worker advocates have celebrated the solidarity shown between sex workers and the LGBTQ community in support of this legislation.

“Winning SB 6105, the ‘Stripper Bill of Rights’ is a monumental win, not only for Washington Strippers, but industry-wide, because not only does the bill ensure workplace rights, trainings, and caps punitive fees and fines the club extracts from dancers to work, but it demands agency and dignity by its very language in the bill,” Antonia Crane, a sex worker who founded Strippers United, told Truthout. “For instance, by challenging archaic concepts like “lewd conduct” that target strip clubs and LGTBQIA+ venues, SB6105 allows workers to operate and define their performance and receive tips without fear of criminalization, punishment and fines. This is a beautiful step towards decriminalization and a huge show of stripper solidarity.”

“I hope sex workers’ rights will pick up momentum and expand to include more marginalized and criminalized corners of the sex industry,” Snow said.

This bill directs the state Department of Labor and Industries to draft new rules and guidelines to implement the changes to workplace safety standards mandated by the legislation by early next year. Additionally, the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board will need to create a process for clubs to obtain liquor licenses.

“We’re just so thankful because we all have the right to have sexual expression and labor with fundamental rights and protections,” Zack-Wu said after the bill passed the legislature earlier this month. “I’m just so touched, I’m so proud, I feel so much love for all of you, and like, let’s keep fucking dancing!”

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