The nation’s only unionized strip club closed its doors on Monday, the national holiday celebrating labor unions. The Lusty Lady, a San Francisco institution for almost 40 years, was behind on rent and struggling to keep pace with competitors. For the past decade, it had operated as a workers’ cooperative.
The club was unionized by SEIU in 1997. In 2003, the dancers joined together and purchased the Lusty Lady for $400,000 in 2003. A former dancer recalled her time there fondly, but noted that “the pay was quite low by industry standards–typically from the low-teens to low-twenties per hour.”
The former dancer also observed:
For all its positive attributes, the Lusty hardly wanted for shortcomings. For starters, it was–and I say this affectionately–a dump. The endlessly cheerful support staff made sure that the stage and Private Pleasures booth were tidy, and the dressing room as neat as could be, but the public areas resembled a dimly lit Dionysian hellscape in which one could almost hear the carpet squish.
One of the positive attributes the dancer recalled was that the club had very strict rules on its customers. They weren’t allowed to make special dance requests, for example. The dancer found this empowering. Other observers might note that it is also uncompetitive, however. A customer has choices on where to spend money, after all. It seems too many of the Lusty Lady’s customers made that choice.
A bold experiment in the history of labor unions has ended. Also, a previously unanswered question has been settled. Unions can drive even a strip club out of business.