"In response to the conversation Elle Stanger started in her article “Minimum Wage Strippers?” I have some comments and points I wanted to make:
Legally, workers are either employees or independent contractors. Right now, strippers in Oregon are classified as independent contractors. Yet, many of the clubs in Portland treat strippers as employees. Clubs cannot have their cake and eat it too. Strippers deserve fair working conditions, whether that is as employees or independent contractors. Ideally, clubs could decide for themselves whether they want to classify strippers as employees or independent contractors, depending on their environment and financial structure.
Tax-wise, there are a couple of major differences between those who are categorized as employees and those who are categorized as independent contractors. Employees have taxes automatically withheld from their paychecks whereas independent contractors are expected to pay their taxes in quarterly or annual payments to the IRS. The second major difference is that independent contractors must file taxes even on very small amounts of income, unlike employees who are usually exempt from filing taxes unless they make more than roughly $5400. Also, the IRS is not limited merely to auditing employees; the IRS can also perform audits on independent contractors – even those who don’t file taxes. Tax-wise, it is illegal to not file your taxes, regardless of how much you make.
Independent contractor taxes seem really high, and it doesn’t feel fair to many strippers, many of whom don’t make a ton, to pay those. But they only seem high because they are paid in different ways. As an independent contractor you are responsible for all of your Social Security and Medicare taxes; an employee has the benefit of their employer taking on some of those taxes, so employees pay less of those taxes. Yes, as an employee, taxes are taken out of your paycheck. But depending on how much you make, those taxes may make less of a dent than independent contractor taxes otherwise would. And you are also operating legally in the tax system (as opposed to not filing your taxes).
I don’t know if it would be beneficial for strippers to be classified as employees, because I really don’t know how that might impact their total income and the tipping structure and tipping culture. But, it is not fair for clubs to exert the control they do (outfit and shoes, pubic hair, music, stage performance, private dance guidelines, mandatory tip-outs, etc.) without then giving strippers the benefits that accompany that kind of control (sick leave, workers compensation, unemployment, etc.). Clubs need to be held accountable for how they treat their workers.
As a stripper myself, I understand that some strippers do profit from the system as it is now (and many really don’t seem to care one way or the other). However, I think that many strippers would benefit more from clubs sticking to a clear system. I think it is demoralizing to be controlled in the ways that I am at work, without also receiving the benefits of being an employee. Either, let me work the way I want to (don’t regulate my outfit, force me to pay your other employees money, or force me to dance to your music), or control my behavior (which you already do) and give me the real benefits of being an employee."