Last week's news that a local strip-club chain was agreeing to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by dancers could detonate across the entire bump-and-shake industry here in South Florida. The agreement, which still has to be signed off on by a federal judge, would see Scarlett's Cabaret ponying up $6 million in bac kpay to more than 4,700 dancers who previously worked at the chain's three locations, two in Florida and one in Ohio.
But the payday is just the beginning, according to the former dancer who filed the case. Adonay Encarnacion says that clubs across South Florida aren't just picking dancers' pockets but creating the kind of untenable labor-management relationship that's possibly increased illegal activity inside the clubs. She's hoping that by leveling the financial playing field, more light will shine into what's become a darker industry.
"We're hoping that there will be more standards and balance," she tells New Times. "They way that it's become, it's a little bit out of control. It feels like a Third World country."
It was Encarnacion's business school experience that prompted the suit. She had worked previously as an exotic dancer, but in 2013, Encarnacion was working toward an honors degree in business at Berkeley College in New York City. Then, when her federal Pell Grant was cut, she returned to dancing to pay for school, landing at the Scarlett's in Hallandale Beach. But the exotic dancing world had seriously changed. So had Encarnacion. Now armed with schooling on labor laws and business ethics and practices, she saw how management was essentially (and illegally) screwing the dancers out of their money.
"Basically they are violating the girls' rights," she explains. "They qualify you as an independent contractor, but they treat you as an employee, and they switch it kind of back and forth to whatever is beneficial to them."
Encarnacion says dancers faced a pile-up of fees from the club. "They basically charge fees for the girls to run their operation. They charge fees for leasing the space, which is something that an independent contractor does, but they charge fees for the DJ, the house mom, the ten to 12 security guards — that’s three to five dollars in tip out. Every time you do a lap dance, they charge five dollars out of the girl’s pocket. They charge almost 51 percent of every Champagne room you sell."
According to Encarnacion, if a dancer makes an average of $300 a night, "$100 to $150 of that would be going to the club and their fees."
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In her year and a half working in the club, Encarnacion saw strippers from all walks of life — from moms trying to feed their kids or students paying tuition to girls hooked on drugs or beholden to pimps. But because of the financial crunch put on the girls, Encarnacion also says that the illegal activity increased inside the club. The girls were desperate. "When someone is taking your money to feed your child, you're going to do what you have to do to feed your child."
After graduating, Encarnacion complained to management about the labor situation. She was promptly fired, she says ("They did Donald Trump on me"). She started her own business and planned to forget about the whole situation. Then she "started thinking about all the other girls who didn't know their rights or have the opportunity or education to move forward with anything," she explains. So she filed her suit.
The Scarlett's settlement could be a landmark for South Florida's strip-club world. Andrew Frisch, Encarnacion's attorney, explains that there has been a smattering of strip-club labor disputes over the past two decades but that the cases have kicked into overdrive in the past two years — just not in Florida. "It might be a lack of education," he says. "In other parts of the country, the cases have become more prevalent, like in New York ,Georgia, and California."
Encarnacion hopes that the Scarlett's lawsuit flags a sea change for dancers' labor rights across the region.