When the coronavirus shut down the Lucky Devil Lounge in Portland, Oregon things looked grim. Dancers at the venue had already seen their incomes decline in the weeks prior, so the owners decided to get creative instead of closing completely. Since they had a kitchen and could stay open as long as they delivered, the solution was simple.
— Lucky Devil Lounge (@LuckyDevil_PDX) March 17, 2020
For a $30 delivery fee, dancers in pasties, escorted by a security guard, will deliver from the Lucky Devil’s kitchen to Portlanders’ doors. They’re armed with masks and gloves, along with sanitizer, and the strip club rule of “no touching the dancers” applies even more forcefully here while they keep their safe six-foot distance from customers.
“At a certain point we decided we probably shouldn’t be sending topless girls to random people’s houses, so we’re doing it more PC,” Lucky Devil owner Shon Boulden told Rolling Stone. Now they travel to the clients in sweaters and remove them to “bounce around” when they arrive.
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“Boober” Eats is a cute idea, and it gained a lot of attention and traction on social media and in the community pretty fast. Portland, it may surprise you to know, has the highest number of strip clubs per capita in the country, and so that means a lot of dancers are currently out of work. So one club getting creative to keep money coming to their dancers is great. And it’s a fun, amusing thing to enjoy in this time of panic and social distancing. It’s also good for other workers at the club, like the cooks and bouncers, who get to keep making income as well.
But note how I said “workers,” not employees. Not everyone who works at a strip club is considered an employee. It’s unclear from all the coverage of “boober eats” how these women are being paid, though one dancer told Rolling Stone her income is down 75%. Most exotic dancers are not paid as employees of their club, but like hair stylists, tattoo artists, and others, they are paid as independent contractors who rent a space from the venue.
This, I might not have to tell you, is BS. There’s a lot–and I mean A LOT–of controversy and wrangling over who gets to be called an independent contractor and why. In general, calling people who are actually employees independent contractors benefits the employer because they save on payroll taxes and benefits, and thus it hurts many ICs (though not all, some people prefer it, but it’s still a minefield).
Because of this, most of the many dancers in Portland won’t be able to get unemployment (unless they elected to pay into the system themselves, which is rare) or access other safety nets. This is not to say there are no options (the new federal stimulus might give them–woohoo–a tax credit), but more so to highlight that the way strippers are paid is often exploitive and unfair; this even more in evidence in regards to sex workers. But not much is done to help them because they aren’t given much respect by lawmakers or society.
Strippers and sex workers in Portland and elsewhere are fighting for more rights and better working conditions and benefits. So while it’s very fun that this one club is finding a way to continue to provide income to these workers, it’s still worth considering that most dancers and sex workers, in general, will be extremely hard hit by social distancing and other measures and won’t have the same support or back up as many other to weather the storm.
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