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Mps. ordinance would protect adult entertainers from workplace exploitation, unsanitary conditions

Minneapolis Star Tribune logo Minneapolis Star Tribune 6/29/2019 By Andy Mannix, Star Tribune
a group of people walking on a city street at night: To most outsiders, Augie's in downtown Minneapolis is a notorious, tough-as-nails strip club. While all of that is true, the story behind its owner and his clientele is much more complicated. So compelling that TV producers are interested in filming a reality show about owner Brian Michael and the various characters that populate this action-packed club. © Star Tribune/Star Tribune/Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune/TNS To most outsiders, Augie's in downtown Minneapolis is a notorious, tough-as-nails strip club. While all of that is true, the story behind its owner and his clientele is much more complicated. So compelling that TV producers are interested in filming a reality show about owner Brian Michael and the various characters that populate this action-packed club.

Two years after investigators reported unsanitary conditions and exploitative payment practices in Minneapolis strip clubs, city officials are proposing a sweeping ordinance designed to better protect exotic performers.

City Council Member Cam Gordon has prepared a draft ordinance that would prohibit “tip pooling” in adult clubs, a practice in which performers are required to turn over a portion of their tips at the end of a shift. Management would be required to give performers written contracts upon hiring, along with the club’s official policies on anti-discrimination.

For safety, entertainers would be given security escorts when leaving after a shift. Clubs could not employ managers or security staff with recent domestic violence convictions. The ordinance would also set new sanitation standards, requiring staff to immediately clean up and keep a log of bodily fluid “spills.”

“It’s absolutely a step in the right direction,” said Jayne Swift, an organizer for Minneapolis’ chapter of Sex Workers Outreach Project, an organization that’s interviewed performers and given the city input for the new regulations. “It’s an ordinance that treats exotic dancers as workers and recognizes they have serious labor concerns.”

The proposal comes after adult entertainers around the country have been raising complaints about an industry they say exploits performers, some filing lawsuits against their employers.

Swift said she’s heard repeated complaints from dancers about unsafe or dirty conditions that routinely cause injuries. The ordinance, she said, would help make sure clubs are up to code set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Gordon cited the proposal another example of the modern council’s commitment to protecting workers’ rights in Minneapolis, following the city raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and creating new rules around sick-and-safe time for employees.

“I think our ordinance prior to this was very weak in many respects,” he said.

In Minneapolis, a push for new regulations to the adult entertainment industry picked up momentum in 2017, when the city health inspectors found bodily fluids present in 11 of the 17 adult businesses, according to city records.

Another report that year, conducted by the University of Minnesota, studied workplace conditions, finding performers routinely faced physical violence and sexual assault. It also concluded that entertainers pay “a significant portion of their earning back to the club in the form of house fees, tips, and fines,” which pushes them into higher-risk situations for sexual violence and coercion.

Since those reports came out, Gordon has met with performers and club owners to tailor specific language for the ordinance. Gordon said he was surprised to learn the economic details of how some clubs operate. Most do not employ dancers, instead paying them as independent contractors who rent stage time, some working without actual contracts, he said.

“There’s a sense that you have to tip out everyone, including the managers and owners, which you’re not supposed to be able to do,” Gordon said. “It felt like there was an economic model that relied on these performers to bring in enough money so that everyone else was doing OK.”

Gordon said the City Council will likely hold a public hearing on the ordinance later this summer and he expects it to pass with a large majority vote.

Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036 Staff reporter Emma Nelson contributed to this report.

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©2019 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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