One after another, workers from Minneapolis' adult entertainment world shared their stories Monday with City Council members.
They had gathered for a public hearing on the city's proposed ordinance designed to protect exotic dancers from financial exploitation and provide a safer and cleaner work environment.
Most supported the ordinance as an important first step to help workers in an industry where rights are often ignored by the government. Others said they had no problems with current working conditions, and that clubs that don't treat workers well should be dealt with on an individual basis.
The four council members making the quorum for the Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights, and Engagement Committee voted unanimously to pass the ordinance, which will be heard by the full council next week. Council Member Linea Palmisano , co-author of the ordinance, said every worker in the city deserves a safe environment and that the ordinance should help undo some of the stigmas associated with the industry.
"I'm really proud that this was an empowering conversation for workers," she said.
The ordinance would prohibit club management from requiring performers to turn over a portion of their tips at the end of a shift. Management would also be required to give performers written contracts upon hiring, along with the club's anti-discrimination policies.
For safety, entertainers would be given security escorts when leaving after a shift and cameras would be required in closed, private dancing areas. Clubs could not employ managers or security staff with recent domestic violence convictions.
The council chamber was filled for the nearly two-hour hearing, with many holding signs that read "Minneapolis Supports Strippers."
In drafting the ordinance, the city reached out to workers in the adult entertainment industry through studies by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State University-Mankato and the Sex Workers Outreach Project, representatives from the industry and workplace advisory council.
Those studies concluded that workers dealt with physical injuries because of unsafe stages, sexual and physical assault, cleanliness problems, unclear customer expectations and a lack of support from management.
A representative of Déjà Vu and two other downtown clubs said he supported the ordinance, but was concerned that businesses wouldn't have enough time to comply with design requirements.
Monica, a former dancer who is now a worker's rights advocate, said the ordinance is really a list of common-sense protections. She was particularly angered at giving tips to management, because they already make a wage.
Stephen Befort, a University of Minnesota law professor, said a state law already prohibits employers from requiring tips or accepting them. A major issue is that dancers are often classified as independent contractors and not employees, which severely limits their workplace rights.
Government has contributed to workplaces problems in clubs because they view adult entertainment as a "social nuisance" and "something to cover up," said Jayne Swift, an organizer for Minneapolis' chapter of Sex Workers Outreach Project who worked on the Mankato study.
Tara, a dancer who works at Downtown Cabaret, said she has rarely been harassed at the clubs she has danced at for the past 15 years. She believes sharing tips is worthwhile since those employees protect her when needed.
Several women of color who worked at clubs said that they have faced discrimination. Several clubs had told them that more than two women of color couldn't work on the same shift, and that they often received less-busy time slots.
Council Member Cam Gordon, who drafted the ordinance, said he originally thought that all that needed to be done was to close the VIP rooms and classify all the workers as employees instead of independent contractors.
He soon found out those were things that dancers wanted preserved.
Committee Chair Phillipe Cunningham thanked the dancers for speaking out because they could face retaliation from club owners.
"This may be a radical statement coming from a council member, but sex work is work," he said.
Council Member Andrea Jenkins said passing the ordinance is a step in the right direction "to really lift up and support all sex workers."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465