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Portland strippers vote to unionize, could get official recognition later this week

Platform-shod feet stand near signs that read Actors' Equity Association 1913
Steve Gibbons
Actor's Equity Association
A group of 16 strippers who danced at Northwest Portland’s Magic Tavern voted unanimously to unionize under the Actor’s Equity Association in Sept. 2023. The dancers have been on strike since April and picketed the club in June demanding safe working conditions.

When a Portland stripper with the stage name Creature started working at the Magic Tavern in February, she liked the look of the club.

“Magic Tavern just had that aesthetic that really fit me,” Creature said. “It had the little old metal bar feel.”

She enjoyed working there at first but said she soon realized there were safety issues at the club, like no security cameras, improperly installed poles for dancers, and no dedicated security staff for night shifts. Then in March, Creature said two dancers were fired after asking managers to make the club safer. In April, the strippers went on strike.

Across the country, there’s been a wave in recent years of workers in industries like food service and manufacturing demanding better pay and benefits, voting to unionize or going on strike to compel management to address their concerns. But last week when Creature and 15 other Magic Tavern dancers unanimously voted to unionize, they became just the second active group of dancers in the country – and the only one in Oregon – to do so.

The Actors’ Equity Association, which represents the strippers, expects the National Labor Relations Board to certify the vote by the end of the week. A spokesperson for the NLRB said in an email that if the results are certified, Magic Tavern must bargain in good faith with the union.

A line of people hold signs outside a building that reads "Tavern."
Steve Gibbons
Actors' Equity Association
Magic Tavern's dancers in Portland have been on strike since April and picketed the club in June demanding safe working conditions.

“This is proof that strippers joining a union is no fluke and that workers who want a union can have a union,” Kate Hindle, president of the Actors’ Equity Association, said in a statement. “In this moment, it means that another group of dancers is on the path to a fairer, safer workplace. But it’s also a win for the labor movement, particularly those in stigmatized and marginalized industries where their needs are routinely overlooked or ignored.”

In May of this year, dancers at the Star Garden in Hollywoodvoted to unionize under the Actors’ Equity Association. It was the first group of strippers to approve a union vote since the 1990s when dancers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady unionized, according to the NLRB. The Lusty Lady closed in 2013.

Magic Tavern management declined to speak with OPB for this story, but in an August Instagram post called some of the allegations from the dancers false, although did not include specifics.

“Dancers and other independent contractors can choose where they feel most ‘at home’ entertaining and book at that venue,” Magic Tavern said in the post.

Creature said she frequently gets asked why Magic Tavern strippers don’t just go work at another club. She chose to speak out because she didn’t want new dancers to think the conditions at Magic Tavern were standard.

“I don’t want some dancer who’s just getting into this to see that and be like, ‘Oh, no security. Okay, that’s fine. Nobody’s walking to my car. There’s no cameras anywhere. Who’s got my back, or is that just regular? Is that just normal being a stripper?’” she said.

“No, it’s not.”

Kyra Buckley