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Live Nude Girls Unite!

Lawrence Bush
August 28, 2017

The Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco unionized on this date in 1996, with the peep-show dancers voting 57-15 to join SEIU Local 90, following a strike and a lock-out. One of the strippers, Julia Query, a Jewish woman, made a documentary film (with Vicky Funari) in 2000, Live Nude Girls Unite!, which told the story of the Lusty Lady workers and achieved an international circulation. “Query had picked the Lusty Lady, as opposed to other strip joints,” writes Jonathan Chisdes at Chizfilm Jewish Movie Reviews, “because most of the owners were women; but it soon became obvious that their gender did not make the management sensitive to women’s needs and issues. Hiring and firing practices were unfair. Workers would have their salaries reduced for being a few minutes late or missing a meeting. They were not allowed to call in sick; they were also denied health-care benefits. And even though it’s illegal, dancers were categorized by race; only one dancer-of-color was scheduled per shift. The women were sexually harassed by their bosses and encouraged to engage in illegal activities. . . . The final straw came when management refused to enforce its no-camera policy. That was when the dancers decided to unionize. But as it turned out, voting in the union was the easy part. Negotiating the contract with management was grueling...” The Lusty Lady was the first strip club in history to establish an all-union (closed) shop. To see the trailer for the film, look below.

“[H]er mother, Dr. Joyce Wallace . . . is an outspoken advocate of prostitute rights and has helped many prostitutes on the streets of New York. She even appeared on ‘20/20’ with Barbara Walters. But despite her women’s rights and pro-union work, she is in many ways the typical Jewish mother and wants more for her daughter than to be a stripper. For this reason, Query has been afraid to tell her mother what she’s been doing. She spends two-thirds of the film making up lies about her work to hide the truth from her mother.” --Jonathan Chisdes

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.