Laboring to entertain
Regardless of the moral outrage and social taboos against certain sex and entertainment industries, one fact is ignored by state and federal governments: Musicians, strippers and adult-entertainment workers labor under the equivalent of pre-Civil War 19th century labor law.
Federal and state governments complain about shortfalls in budgets, but do nothing to tax this underground-entertainment economy. Politicians debate immigration issues regarding undocumented workers in the United States, but such workers have more protections than entertainment workers who are citizens.
Those same elected officials do nothing to protect the interests of all other businesses who pay taxes on their work force. They let the entertainment industry slip by “under the table”; they do not pay their fair share of the employment taxes and their workers do not have any protections whatsoever.
If a stripper slips because a waitress spilled a drink, she is sent home without pay or workers’ compensation. A musician who works in the night club and concert industry for his or her entire working life may in fact have thousands of shows in a career under a number of employers, but be ineligible to receive employers’ contributions for Social Security, workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance to their accounts. If combined with the contributions from the musicians “day job,” this money would be of real benefit to that entertainment worker, while being a small cost for the club owner to bear, easily made up by only a half-dozen paying customers through the door.
The entertainment workers’ struggle is very similar to what the farm workers had in the late 1960s during the movement led by César Chávez. At that time there was no labor board for the farm workers. They organized to reform labor laws governing farm workers and were granted an Agricultural Labor Relations Board to settle disputes.
Entertainment workers are the “last in line” in the United States to have the protection of minimum-wage laws. If the minimum wage was expanded to cover entertainment workers, unfair business practices such as “pay to play” fees for musicians and “stage fees” for the strippers would be outlawed overnight.
We need an Entertainment Labor Relations Board to protect the rights of the millions of workers who labor to entertain America.