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Strippers Set Up First Worker-Owned Club
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Jun 30, 8:50 am ET

By Michael Kahn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The nation's only unionized strippers are now running the show.

Dancers at the Lusty Lady in San Francisco have made history again, this time turning the peep show into the first employee-owned and -operated strip club in the country.

The new proprietors, who number about 60 dancers and support staff, took over the club as a cooperative this month after the Lusty Lady's former owners decided to close up shop.

"It is our bodies out there and we should be able to keep the profits," said one new owner on Friday who called herself Sybil, 26, and who has danced at the club for seven years. "It is an exciting time to be here. This made me stick around."

The decision to buy the club came after a high-profile and successful contract fight earlier this year to win better wages at the club located in the touristy North Beach neighborhood filled with bars, restaurants and, of course, plenty of other adult clubs and stores.

Soon after that victory, however, the club's owners in February notified the dancers -- who include graduate students, a former lawyer and artists -- they would soon have to look for a new place to take off their clothes.

But instead of looking for other jobs the women, who are members of Local 790 of the Service Employees International Union, negotiated a deal to buy the business. They plan to use the club's revenues to pay off the previous owners over the next few years.

Each dancer who elects to pay $300 to join the cooperative also becomes eligible for a profit-sharing bonus at the end of the year -- giving them even more incentive to convince clients to pour quarters into the booths. Unlike other strip clubs, strippers at the Lusty Lady depend on hourly wages that range from $15 to $27 an hour rather than tips.

"People are more enthusiastic and not just standing around," Sybil said next to a new sign on the sidewalk that proudly proclaims the Lusty Lady a "worker-owned" business.

Stepping inside the club featuring well-worn carpeting, dim lighting and machines that dispense coins needed to raise the curtains on the viewing booths to, it may seem strange why the women are so attached to their jobs and workplace.

Yet the dancers say the chance to be their own bosses, the camaraderie and the flexible hours make the Lusty Lady an attractive way to pursue outside interests and get by in one of America's most expensive cities.

"Getting to dance around with my friends and chat up the guys is a hoot," said another dancer named Ruby, 22. "We have a really close-knit group."

It has also been hard work too, say the dancers who have elected a board to make the final decisions. Negotiating contracts, dealing with employee problems and trying to turn a profit in a tough economy are new concerns in addition to keeping the clients happy.

And while they recognize the Lusty Lady is anything but an average business proposition, the women say they are simply chasing the American dream just like everybody else.

"It doesn't seem weird to me at all," said a dancer called Tiamata. "Everybody wants a little bit more of the pie in any industry."

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