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Strippers from two clubs may unionize

Louisville, Kentucky- Strippers at two Louisville clubs have begun talks with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters about unionizing, a local Teamsters president said.
Denny Norris, president of Local 783, said the union has been working with the dancers for about two months. Discussions have intensified in recent weeks, he said.

“We are talking to the professional dancers to see if they do want to join us,” he said.

Norris said the dancers who approached the union work for two adult businesses – one a national chain with a site in Louisville and the other a local club.

He would not identify either club or any of the dancers.

But Lee Krugler, the longtime owner of Godfather II on Preston Highway, said the local club is his.

Krugler said he has been in contact with Teamsters, trying to unionize strippers.

But he said yesterday he decided to form a union without the Teamsters’ help.

The union’s goal will be to use dues to defeat state and local politicians who pass laws that harm strip clubs and the dancers who work in them, he said.

Krugler said he sold Godfather II to his wife earlier this week so he does not have a conflict of interest with the union, although he said he will not be member.

He said the union would be officially chartered in 60 days.

Krugler said his attempts to unionize the dancers is in response to the Louisville Metro Council’s efforts to tighten restrictions on strip clubs.

Council members have passed an ordinance limiting the operating hours of strip clubs and other adult businesses and are considering legislation that would require dancers to wear pasties and G-strings, stay at least 6 feet from customers and prohibit them from accepting tips.

“Louisville is going to be the first city to have its dancers unionize because of politicians,” Krugler said.

“The money is going to be used to get them out of office. … It’s a political action union.”

Krugler estimates that 1,000 dancers work in Louisville strip clubs, adding that they could be a significant political force.

Norris said he believes talks between the Teamsters and Louisville’s dancers are broader than political concerns, and include health care, seniority and pay.

“There are good places to work, there are bad places to work,” he said.

Mike Hatzell, a lawyer who represents several strip clubs in Louisville, said that he was aware of efforts to unionize the dancers but that several of his clients would oppose the idea.

“This union is not for everyone,” he said.

Most exotic dancers in Louisville are private contractors with agreements to dance in clubs. In many of the clubs, they must pay a fee to dance there.

They make their money from the tips customers give them.

Louisville would not be the first city to have strippers who are unionized, but it might be the first to have the union formed for political purposes.

Dancers at the Lusty Lady in San Francisco organized in 1996 and since have won wage concessions and sick pay.

The strippers there signed a contract last year to receive a top wage of $27 an hour.

Those dancers are represented by the Exotic Dancers Union, a chapter of the Service Employees International Union.

Norris said Louisville’s dancers have been smeared by people who do not like the way they earn a living.

“A lot of the time, these girls get a bum rap,” he said.

“They’re just trying to raise kids, pay tuition and pay their mortgage. … Most of them are really down to earth.”

But he said the ordinance the Metro Council is considering would harm them terribly. “Without tips, these girls are wasting their time,” he said.

Metro Council member Doug Hawkins, a leading opponent of adult-entertainment businesses, said yesterday that he will not begrudge the strippers if they target him for defeat.

“More power to them. It’s their right,” said Hawkins, R-25th. “If I were in their shoes, I’d probably do the same thing.”

Hawkins said the council is trying to pass laws “to make them (the adult businesses) better citizens,” and he said it would be “immoral and unethical” for the council to shut down any legal business.

Council Member Ron Weston, D-13th, a former union negotiator, said he did not think the formation of the union would change how the council handles the adult-entertainment issue.

But he said he suspects a union would be good for the dancers.

“I don’t see how the union wouldn’t benefit any employee,” he said.

 

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