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Author: Andrea Torres
PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Adonay Encarnacion said she started working in the sex industry about two decades ago.
In a mostly unregulated world where women are viewed as a commodity, it is often the norm for the uneducated and poor to be exploited, she said. Strip clubs use high fees to hit dancers for some of the costs of running the club, she said.
Sexual assault is usually dealt with secretively and it often goes unpunished, she said. Illicit drugs and undocumented minors are part of the dark world, and any resistance is faced with intimidation tactics, she said.
It was while working at Scarlett’s Cabaret in Pembroke Park when she said she got fed up. Her frustration fueled a fight that could now result in a $6 million settlement, after a collective action involving 4,709 dancers who worked at three Scarlett’s cabarets.”Fighting for workers rights in this industry means that sometimes you may have to go against some very powerful and corrupt people,” Encarnacion, 38, said. “I’m still afraid.”
“They treated us like employees when it was convenient to them and like independent contractors when it was convenient to them,” Encarnacion said. “If they were going to treat us like employees, then they needed to be paying us minimum wage and overtime.”
Encarnacion’s attorney, Andrew R. Frisch, said Friday that he is “seeking approval” on the agreed $6 million settlement that penalizes owners of Scarlett’s Cabaret in Florida and Ohio. Brandon Samuels, John Blanke, William Beasley, who could not be reached for comment, run the Scarlett’s in Pembroke Park, Tampa and Toledo, Ohio.
DOCUMENT: Civil action against Scarlett’s Cabaret
Encarnacion said that during her battle she has come to learn that the problems that she faced at Scarlett’s in Pembroke Park are prevalent in the industry. Many strip clubs nationwide rely on a business model that forces the dancers to pay fees for the use of the club.
“Not only are these club owners not paying us fairly, but they are also finding ways of getting a chunk of our money,” Encarnacion said. “Say you were doing a $25 lap dance; $5 goes to the house. There needs to be a balance between the rights of the dancers and the club owners. They are taking our rights away … They are taking advantage of the girls who are not educated … they are making them sign arbitration agreements.”
Lindsay Roth is a sex worker, and a victim’s advocate, who is aiming for a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University. She doesn’t know Encarnacion or the other dancers involved in the legal effort in South Florida, but said that she admires their courage.
Roth said she has met some dancers who are having to give up about 40 percent of their earnings. They are forced to help cover operational expenses and they are set up to share tips with other employees at the clubs in order to remain competitive, Roth said.
Katherine Koster works for the Sex Workers Outreach Project, an organization that advocates for the human rights of sex workers and aims to raise awareness on the negative impact of their criminal status in the U.S.”Club owners have dancers subsidizing the salaries of other workers. After the stage fee, there is the hair and make-up, then there is the house-mom and there is security,” Roth said. “Tips are distributed among workers who are not dancing. There is a champagne room fee, and then there is champagne room’s host, who keeps about 20 percent.”
“Disorganized labor markets are fertile ground for the sort of labor practices that victimize low-income and marginalized female workers,” Koster said. “Most of them don’t have empowerment and are vulnerable at an early age. Most of them just don’t really know that they have rights.”
Encarnacion said that the dynamic is far more serious in South Florida, where there are many women from Latin American, Eastern Europe and Russia who are undocumented. Encarnacion said she is of Puerto Rican descent, was born in New York and grew up in the Bronx.
Encarnacion said she knows she is not alone, and neither is her lawyer. He had the help of Galvin B. Kennedy and Beatriz Sosa-Morris, of Kennedy Law Firm, a law firm in Texas with experience in multimillion-dollar settlements on behalf of strip club dancers who were “misclassified” as non-employees to avoid the legally required hourly pay.
If the court approves the uncontested $6 million settlement, the Scarlett’s dancers included in the case will receive a minimum of $102.77 if they performed anywhere from a week to a month. The maximum is $6,371 if they worked 61 months or more from December 2009 to February 2015.
The lawyers will apply for about $1.6 million in fees and bill for additional costs. Encarnacion, Andrea Wong, Valeria Casillas, Marissa Gall, Roberta Inserra, Patricia Kugmeh, Rachel Stephenson and Brittney Roberts will receive additional court-approved service payments.
“Some of us are students. Others are moms trying to get out of poverty,” said Encarnacion. “Dancers are just human beings doing work. We have worker’s rights and we have human rights.”
Local 10 News made attempts to reach Samuels, Blanke and Beasley, but they could not be reached for comment and did not reply to messages.