Washington Adopts ‘Strippers’ Bill of Rights’ Protections

OLYMPIA, Wash.Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee made history by adopting a "Strippers’ Bill of Rights," granting a wider breadth of labor rights and protections to adult entertainers at various types of venues in Washington. Senate Bill (SB) 6105 reaffirms the focus of providing stronger labor protections to all classes of adult entertainers, like erotic dancers and commercial sex workers, across various segments that specifically pertain to adult entertainment and performance.

“Strippers are workers, and they should be given the same rights and protections as any other labor force,” said Democratic Sen. Rebecca Saldaña. “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.” 

The bill's measures provide for several overhauls in labor protections for performers. For starters, the law requires training. Staff at adult entertainment establishments in Washington must undergo professionally developed training programs provided by third-party organizations to prevent sexual harassment and workplace abuse, and identify and report cases of human trafficking. The law also requires panic buttons to be placed throughout VIP areas and an overhaul of safety and security personnel employed at these establishments during certain times of day, especially peak hours with high foot traffic. Other protections include the establishment of policies that require clear and transparent contracts that prohibit unfair financial penalties on workers and disproportionate payments to the venue.

Senate Bill 6105 also requires compliance with safety regulations for the award of new liquor licenses. This provides a regulatory incentive to comply with updated safety and fairness regulations. Strippers Are Workers, a dancer-led labor rights activism organization, was instrumental in lobbying for and pushing through Senate Bill 6105.

Madison Zack-Wu, the campaign manager for the group, explained to the Associated Press how some of these protections would work. Explaining how most dancers in the state of Washington are independent contractors that are paid by the customers, performers in this scenario may owe club fees for each shift they work. Senate Bill 6105 limits the fees a club can charge a dancer by capping them at $150 or 30 percent of the amount the dancer earns during their shift. Late fees are also prohibited. 

“We don’t want clubs to shut down now or in the future because that will just put everyone out of work and then put them in even riskier or more dire situations,” Zack-Wu said previously, according to the AP story. 

Sex workers' rights groups and civil liberties organizations applauded the state's adoption of the bill. Illinois is the only other state in the union with similar measures.

This is a different tone from some lawmakers in other states—especially state legislatures dominated by socially conservative Republicans. As Gov. Inslee and Sen. Saldaña are working openly to normalize labor rights for those employed by adult establishments, officials in Florida are stripping away rights (no pun intended).

AVN reported recently on the movement of a Florida bill that would eliminate the right of an individual aged 18 to 20 years to work at an adult entertainment club or other brick-and-mortar venue. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, an antithetical leader to that of Washington's Inslee, has yet to adopt the law. But it is likely that he will as Florida continues to view anything that is remotely sexual as an optional right for adults that isn't entitled to First Amendment protection.

The so-called “stripper ban” is presented as a safety measure to counter human trafficking. However, critics of the bill are concerned this is simply a censorship measure.

Labor efforts have or are currently underway in other cities and states to permit unionization and fight for labor protections afforded to other professions. For example, in 2014, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that dancers at Las Vegas adult clubs are technically employees and are entitled to minimum wage and other protections. 

Dancers in Portland, Ore., have long been on the frontline in organizing and voting to unionize and demand better wages, working conditions and protections.

One recent case that drew the attention of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Los Angeles is the effort of performers and employees at the Star Garden adult venue in North Hollywood. The NLRB just filed a complaint on behalf of the club's dancers alleging that Star Garden violated the terms of the settlement it reached with them last May agreeing to rehire dancers it had fired and allow them to unionize. Star Garden became one of the only strip clubs in the U.S. to be unionized and represented by a U.S. Labor Department-recognized labor union.