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Mpls. officials consider safety regulations for adult entertainment workers

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Supporters of rules for strip clubs at Minneapolis council meeting.
Backers of an ordinance that would impose new regulations on Minneapolis strip clubs gathered in the City Council chambers for a public hearing Monday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Updated: 8:50 p.m. | Posted: 1:30 p.m.

The Minneapolis City Council is taking up sweeping new restrictions on strip clubs. Members of the council heard public testimony Monday on a proposal to impose regulations on adult entertainment venues. 

Among the provisions, the proposed ordinance would ban club owners and managers from taking part of performers' tips, prohibit couches and beds in VIP areas, and require employment agreements or contracts for performers.

Jayne Swift, of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, who supports the ordinance, says for too long strip club regulations have ignored the well-being of performers. 

"When erotic dance is treated as a public embarrassment, workers find very little help in their struggles with an exploitative pay structure, racist management or harassment," Swift said.

Two years ago, health inspectors with ultraviolet lights found unsanitary conditions at many of the downtown establishments. 

At the same time, surveys conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University, Mankato found that many strip club workers had concerns about safety, particularly with one-on-one customer interactions.

Several dozen women — some of whom work at adult clubs — showed their support for new regulations by holding up red signs at the council committee’s meeting that said “Minneapolis supports strippers.”

Swift said one practice that’s highly exploitative is mandatory tip sharing. Even though it’s against Minnesota law for restaurant managers to require servers to pool gratuities, it’s common for exotic dancers, most of whom are independent contractors, to share their tips with managers. The proposed ordinance would prohibit the practice. 

Tara Hernandez dances at Downtown Cabaret, a block and a half from City Hall. She says she has no problem sharing tips with her bosses.

“I am not required to tip management, however it is to me, fair. They’re there to protect us, they’re there to help us when in need. I tip them based off of that,” Hernandez said.

Advocates say the industry is especially difficult for people of color. Alexis Collins has been a dancer for two years off and on and says she’s experienced overt racial discrimination.

“Me being African-American. There are some clubs I went to that will allow only two African-Americans to be there at midnight or to be there at a certain time, saying that they mostly want Caucasian women out there, because that’s when the most money comes in. [Management] is degrading us, like we’re not good enough to do what everybody else is doing,” Collins said.

The proposed ordinance also sets minimum light levels; requires a security camera plan; prohibits security staff from working in clubs if they have a recent domestic violence conviction; private VIP areas may not have couches longer than four feet; all public seating must have non-porous surfaces; and someone who’s not a performer must regularly sanitize the dancing poles.

Council member Cam Gordon said the regulations are a matter of economic justice. Early on, he wanted to ban VIP rooms and require all performers to be club employees.

“But lo and behold, as soon as I reached out to the entertainers, those were two things they absolutely wanted preserved, for very good reasons. And so it was important that we had the interaction and we understood that.”

Gordon says he plans to clarify some language about security cameras near VIP rooms because of concerns dancers raised Monday. 

The proposal is expected to go before the full City Council next week.