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Dancers sue Oregon strip clubs, alleging federal wage violations similar to gig workers

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For Cat Hollis, working at a Portland strip club meant first paying the boss.

Hollis would pay $5 for each eight-hour shift.

Before heading home, Hollis would make another round of payments from the night’s tips, handing out at least $20 apiece to an assortment of other people employed by the club.

“There were days I walked out with absolutely nothing after I paid my fees,” Hollis said.

Now Hollis and three other dancers are suing six clubs in Oregon, a place known for its surfeit of adult entertainment thanks to the state Constitution’s strong free speech protections.

The dancers’ lawsuits allege the establishments violated mandatory minimum wage provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Portland and Eugene, the claims accuse the clubs of “absconding” with the dancers’ tips and demanding “illegal kickbacks” in the form of house fees that dancers said they pay to work.

They allege they are treated as independent workers through their compensation arrangements even though the clubs require them to act as employees by setting their work hours and working conditions down to the music.

The question of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor is “one of the hottest issues in all of American employment law,” said Keith Cunningham-Parmeter, a professor at Willamette University College of Law and an expert in labor law.

The stakes are high for companies like strip clubs. Employees are expensive, Cunningham-Parmeter said. They must be paid minimum wage and overtime. They earn unemployment insurance benefits. They are entitled to a “whole basket” of employment rights, he said.

And yet one study found up to 30 percent of employers misclassify their workers as independent contractors when they are in fact employees, he said.

He said gig workers like those at Lyft and Grub Hub represent the latest examples of the ongoing debate.

“I know thousands of exotic dancers have argued that they are in fact employees and that they mostly seem to have very good cases,” he said. “The central question is how much freedom does the worker have versus how much control does the employer have over the worker.”

‘SHINE A LIGHT ON THIS INDUSTRY’

Amanda Marshall, one of the lawyers representing the dancers, said the claims are among the first of their kind in the state.

“What these cases seek to do and what Cat is seeking to do is shine a light on this industry,” Marshall said. “It’s not an attempt to shut the industry down. This is an attempt to make sure the industry is fair and equitable.”

Dancers don’t “fit the traditional definition of an independent contractor,” said Marshall, who practices in Portland and McMinnville.

“The only requirement for work is their ability to take off their clothes and to fit certain aesthetic principles,” she said.

Hollis’ suit names Sassy’s on Southeast Morrison Street. The other dancers are suing Sugar Shack in Salem, Club Sinrock on Northeast Glisan Street, Caberet II on Southeast Stark Street and two Lane County clubs, Sweet Illusions and Silver Dollar.

In court filings, Anthony Kuchulis, a lawyer for Sassy’s, its owner and managers denied Hollis’ claims and characterized their performances at the club as “occasional and infrequent.”

Kuchulis, who represents Silver Dollar as well, said the claims seek to strip dancers of “the right to contract.” Every other type of stage performer has that right, he said.

“We are working hard to resolve these claims and want what’s best for the workers and local small businesses,” he said in an emailed statement.

Likewise, lawyers for Caberet II alleged dancers at the club are independent contractors. An email to the lawyer for Sinrock was not returned. Sugar Shack and Sweet Illusions have not filed a legal response to the claims and their owners could not be reached for comment.

DANCER ALLEGES RETALIATION

Nationally, dancers have pushed back on being treated as independent contractors, said John Kristensen, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who is also representing the performers.

In recent years, he said, dozens of federal court judges, from Alaska to Georgia, have ruled in dancers’ favor on wage claims like the ones filed in Oregon.

Kristensen pointed to a 2019 ruling out of Georgia, where a federal judge called the idea that strippers rent floor space at clubs “absurd” and a “silly attempt to redefine reality.”

He said unwritten rules for handing out a portion of dancers’ tips to other workers are common and that such demands end up subsidizing those workers’ pay.

“There are some clubs I have seen where the other employees aren’t even on payroll,” he said. “They make their entire income on tips from the dancers.”

Hollis’ claim includes allegations of retaliation. Kristensen said the oner of Sassy’s told Hollis in writing that the dancer was effectively blacklisted from working at his clubs for pursuing a lawsuit.

“It’s really egregious,” he said. “You can’t retaliate in the United States of America against someone who is standing up for their wages.”

In response, Kuchulis called Hollis’ claim of retaliation “especially troubling” because Hollis sought to work as a contract performer at Dante’s while suing Sassy’s over allegedly being treated as a contract worker. Both are owned by Frank Faillace.

FROM DANCING TO ACTIVISM

Hollis said they quit Sassy’s in 2019 after a dispute with a manager over an encounter Hollis had with a customer.

Hollis works from home these days, mostly for an online sex business. Hollis uses they and them pronouns.

Now 32, Hollis started dancing when they were in their mid-20s in Minnesota. They were drawn by the money-making potential and ended up moving to Oregon for its strip clubs as much as its legal cannabis.

During the pandemic, Hollis started a workers’ rights advocacy group called Haymarket Pole Collective.

Stripping is a high turnover business that’s tough on the body, as well as the ego, Hollis said.

Hollis hopes their lawsuit empowers other dancers to speak up in an industry that can be exploitative and even abuse, they said.

“My goal,” Hollis said, “is to be the last generation of people who have to deal with this.”

— Noelle Crombie; ncrombie@oregonian.com; 503-276-7184; @noellecrombie



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Workers

Gig Jobs: Lyfts To Wages Make It Tougher For Platforms To Deliveroo

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Gig economy companies say they excel in moving goods or people around. Critics say their core business is selling the labour of insecure workers at rock-bottom rates. Rising wage rates and falling unemployment will test the truth of both propositions if trends persist.

The UK labour market is at its tightest in more than four decades according to figures from National Statistics last week. US hourly wage rate increases beat forecasts in the US in September, though employment there is lagging expectations.

US ride-hailing app Lyft had to nearly double driver incentives in the second quarter, and expects to go on paying high sign-on bonuses. UK-based food delivery platform Deliveroo reports no problem recruiting riders, despite rising vacancies elsewhere. It claims to already pay well, with average rates above the minimum wage for the time between accepting and completing an order. On a broader definition of a shift, though, riders can reportedly earn as little as £2 an hour.

If companies do have to pay workers more, they will struggle — without efficiency gains — to absorb the extra costs. Platforms make an average contribution margin of just 3 per cent, or roughly $1.20 on the average food delivery order, says McKinsey.

They will not easily pass the costs on to customers either. Resistance will vary by market. Continental Europeans tend to be more cost conscious than Londoners, says JET boss Jitse Groen. Push up charges too much and customers will delete the app.

Rising labour costs were never part of the plan. Platforms have willingly subsidised workers to win a leading market position. The hope was those could then be phased out, as a platform’s increasing market power allowed it to “lock in” workers and prevent them moving to competing platforms.

Market pressure for higher pay will ensure labour relations remain fractious at gig economy businesses. Globally, so-called “platform workers” staged more than 10 protests a week on average in the 30 months to June 2020.

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Industry consolidation is under way in Europe, with half of gig earnings stemming from the five biggest platforms, according to the Centre for European Reform. Wage inflation could accelerate the process by forcing weaker competitors out. If so, expect more protests from gig workers. The pressure for politicians to intervene will rise.

The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. How dependent are gig economy companies on low wage rates? Please tell us what you think in the comments section below.

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Need for Greater Clarity in the Labour Codes to Accommodate Gig Workers – Industry

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There is a need for clarity and constant consultation between the government and the private sector New Delhi, Delhi, India – Business Wire India While the pandemic and onset of technology has created new opportunities of employment such as work from home, part time employment, contract workers, and gig workers, it has also provided opportunities to women and students to reap the benefits of the digital wave. However, as we find new job opportunities on the rise, the traditional avenues have been severely affected by the pandemic. In this regard, it will be critical to have a coherent and well thought out Labour Code. The new Labour Codes have a unique opportunity to foster recovery. It is imperative to find balance and provide accommodative support to the new forms of employment. The labour codes need to recognize small contract labourers and businesses and make provisions for them.

Lack of uniformity and varied regulations at the state level have had an impact on other aspects of employment as well. These variations are disruptive to businesses with operations across various states and may result in workload disparity and deterioration in quality of the production. The rules skirt over the realities of the digital economy and seek to transpose legacy regulation and limitation on growth. In line with this, Mr. Kazim Rizvi, Founding Director, The Dialogue, was of the opinion that, “Businesses, especially small organisations and startups, are still coming out of the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The labour laws, if implemented in the current form, will not only increase the pressure and compliance burden on the companies but also affect their financial output. The role of gig workers is vital in this new economy, and provisions must be made towards giving them adequate compensation and recognition.” The Panelists highlighted some key focus areas such as flexibility in work hours, need for clarity in the definition of core activity, social security for the gig workers and taking into account emerging job models that need consideration to help guide the discourse towards an enabling framework. Centre, state and other stakeholders have to work together in order to ensure that maximum benefits are accrued to the gig workers while being mindful that businesses are not overburdened. Given the subject matter these codes regulate, there is a constant need of dialogue among the stakeholders to improve the legislation while securing the workforce.

Speaking on this, Mr. Ram Rastogi, Digital Payments Strategist, stressed that, “The e-commerce platforms have revenue-sharing arrangements with the people on their platforms. Thus, there needs to be a differentiation for people working full-time and people working in flexible models. Labour codes shouldn’t deter industries that are performing well and consider a performance-based pay model.” He further stated, “Gig workers do the most hard work and make only a small fraction of what permanent workers make. Policymakers should think about them before coming out with the codes and should encourage state governments to work on policies for them.” Suchita Dutta, Executive Director, India Staffing Federation, “Formal Contract work and employment is growing in India. It is helping people pick up new skills and become more industry relevant. While Formal contract labour is well protected for social security and all applicable labour laws including wages, the Gig workers still find the similar format of protection. To realise the full potential of the labour codes, there needs to be continuous dialogue across the sectors to tap the maximum impact for the benefit of gig workers.” Avik Biswas, Partner, Indus Law, “The gig economy workers, for the first time, has been statutorily recognized in India. While the objective of the Codes vis-à-vis the gig economy can be predicted given the way several international regulations on this subject has been structured, we are however still at a stage where a lot more clarity is required on the operative parts of the regulations and how they would substantively affect both companies and workers alike. The obvious way forward appears to be the necessity of a constant dialogue and consultation between the government, employers and other relevant stakeholders.” There is a need for the government to acknowledge the various types of workforces across different sectors. The one-size-fits-all approach may not work since the codes haven’t taken into account rising digital industries such as e-commerce. Additionally, this code might be exclusionary in nature to the small businesses and gig workers in the country especially in states like Maharashtra where people receive work on contractual basis. Hence, it is essential to examine the grey areas in the codes and rework the same.

PWR PWR

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Instacart Gig Workers Are Going On Strike Nationwide

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Image for article titled Instacart's Embattled Gig Workers Are Going On a Nationwide Strike

Photo: Michael Loccisano / Staff (Getty Images)

Protesting what they characterize as low wages and a lack of consistent communication from corporate, gig workers on the grocery delivery app Instacart are poised to begin a nationwide work stoppage on Saturday.

The strike, which is being organized by members of the grassroots labor organization the Gig Workers Collective, has long been threatened by Instacart workers sounding the alarm about subpar working conditions at the company, and follows a September campaign beseeching customers to #DeleteInstacart until the company took steps to address workers’ concerns.

Both campaigns have called for Instacart’s corporate honchos to address a five-pronged list of concerns laid out by workers, which includes establishing a base pay for each order completed, a return to a commission-based pay model, reinstatement of the 10 percent default tip (the current default tip is 5 percent), the establishment of occupational death benefits for workers who die on the job and a customers rating system that doesn’t allow workers to be penalized for factors that fall outside of their control.

“We know that in order for us to see change, we need to hit Instacart where it hurts,” Willy Solis, a member of the Gig Workers Collective, told Vice. “We’re organizing the walk-off because the company continues to ignore us. Our goal is to get Instacart to engage with us.”

In addition to changes to their salary and benefit structures, workers have also campaigned in recent months for better safety precautions to be brought into practice at the company, particularly in light of ongoing concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19.

For many, frustrations about inadequate working conditions have been compounded by Instacart’s $39 billion valuation while gig workers have struggled to deliver groceries throughout the pandemic at great risk to their own physical and mental well-being, the company has made it increasingly difficult to earn a reasonable hourly rate on the platform without relying on tips from customers.

It’s worth noting that once they go on strike on October 16, gig workers at Instacart will be in good company. In addition to the more than 10,000 John Deere workers who went on strike earlier this week after rejecting the terms of a proposed six-year collective bargaining agreement, workers from Kellogg’s and nurses and other union members from the health care firm Kaiser Permanente have also been on the picket line during what has been unofficially dubbed “Striketober.”

Johnnie Kallas, a Ph.D. student at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told NBC News that the recent strike actions are the combined result of two major forces currently shaping the labor market: “Workers have more labor-market leverage with employers needing and struggling to hire, and then a lot of these workers have been on the front line of a global pandemic for the past 19 months and were touted as heroes, which has given them lots of leverage,” he said.

For its part, Instacart has been vocal in the past about the fact that worker-led strikes have ‘absolutely no impact’ on the company’s bottom line—meaning that if anybody’s going to hit the corporate fat cats where it hurts, it will likely be the customers rather than the shoppers themselves.

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