“I’m going to be okay,” she said. “It’s just a really humbling experience to just be alive.”
A GoFundMe page launched to fund her recovery alluded to a broader reality for the strip club dancers often treated as “contractors” without rights to workers’ compensation, health-care benefits and other protections afforded to employees. The friend behind the fundraiser said that Sky’s job would not cover her medical costs as her injuries put her out of work for “an extended period of the time.”
The head of RCI Hospitality Holdings, which owns the Dallas club where Sky fell, said they are looking into giving her financial help, according to TMZ. But chief executive Eric Langan added that there were no plans to remove the tall pole, saying that dancers choose their own routine and that the company bears no responsibility in the accident.
Amid all the shock and jokes about Sky’s harrowing tumble from the pole, some on Twitter were starting to raise questions about the aftermath.
“We need to unionize Strip Clubs so badly,” one person wrote, saying Sky “should have gotten workers comp and paid leave.”
The talk about compensation for injuries feeds into a years-long debate about exotic dancers’ relationships to the clubs they often pay to perform at, relying on tips rather than normal wages. Lawsuits have increasingly pushed for that to change and have seen some success in putting dancers on clubs’ payrolls. But advocates say the industry still lags behind a turning legal tide.
RCI Hospitality Holdings and its club in Dallas did not respond to multiple inquiries Wednesday. A representative for Sky, Hector Rosario, said the dancer cannot talk to the media until later this week because of an exclusive interview agreement.
Rosario declined to talk about Sky’s situation beyond saying she is “turning these lemons into lemonade” and planning to “see what changes she can make.”
Florida lawyer John Gadd told The Post that strip club performers typically have good cases for employee status under federal law when they take issues to court. The dancers he has represented have been told what to wear, when to work and more, he said, which all helps build the case that they are more than freelancers. They’re also at the core of strip clubs’ business, he said.
One study from 2017 that examined 75 federal and state rulings found only three courts that decided dancers were independent contractors. But Gadd says many businesses stick to that model.
“This is a situation that really involves substantial exploitation,” he said. “These companies that run the clubs — they know the nature of these girls, they know the situations that they are in. They’re usually economically very disadvantaged.”
Businesses get away with bending the law, he argued, by pointing to “the way we’ve always done it” and by hiring people who are unlikely to rock the boat.
Meager help for dancers hurt on the job can be a tipping point. One of Gadd’s clients in a 2016 collective action suit said she turned to a legal push for employee benefits after falling off a stripper pole and landing in the hospital on her own dime.
Clubs and their representatives argue that efforts to turn dancers into paid staff are burdensome and force some businesses to close.
“If you were a bar or a nightclub and hired a band, or comedians, you wouldn’t think of those entertainers as employees,” attorney Peter Prevas, who has defended strip clubs against such lawsuits, told the Baltimore Sun.
Some dancers have been just as skeptical of changes. The San Francisco Examiner described a “wave of panic” among dancers getting their first paychecks in 2018. Their club was heeding a California Supreme Court ruling that set a stricter test for deeming people independent contractors.
“This whole business will be completely ruined,” said one woman interviewed by the Examiner, who identified herself only as Darla. “The whole point about being a stripper is you go in, get fast cash, no one knows how you’re getting it, it’s not documented and it’s not taken from you.”
Some strip clubs have found ways to preserve their old business models, however. HuffPost spoke to one woman who paid her San Fernando Valley club a $90 fee each night before earning back $72 in wages. She also tips the DJ and gives the club some of her lap dance earnings.
Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, a lawyer with the nonprofit Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, has heard those criticisms but maintains that strip clubs need to give dancers protections such as workers’ compensation, overtime pay and minimum wage in addition to tips. Clubs should also help workers stay safe, she said, and could, for example, tell people not to climb above a certain pole height.
Spencer-Scheurich handles worker’s rights cases in all sorts of low-wage industries that tend to lean on contractors. But the strip club industry stands out, she said.
“I think it is pretty remarkable … how easy it is to find exotic dancers who are misclassified as independent contractors when they should be employees,” she said.
As Sky’s injuries draw attention online, the aspiring beautician has assured people that she is recovering. On Monday, she posted a picture of herself in a hospital bed, eyes closed and giving a thumbs-up: Her jaw was wired shut, she said, but the surgery had gone well.
A day earlier, she had rebuked some people’s reactions to the viral fall video, tweeting that there was “absolutely NOTHING funny about this situation.”
“This is the worst pain I’ve ever felt and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone,” she said.
Now, though, people were rallying to support her. As of Wednesday evening, her GoFundMe page had raised more than $36,000 on a $20,000 campaign.
“I never imagined so many people would stand behind me in a situation like this and that has outweighed all the negativity by far,” she wrote.
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Today has been a very long day. My surgery went well. My jaw is currently wired shut so please refrain from calling me as of right now and bare with me on replies because my phone hasn’t stopped blowing up. Everyone’s love & kind words have not gone unnoticed whatsoever and it means so much to me that all of you have blessed me and uplifted me in so many ways. I am overwhelmed in the best way by all the support. I was really nervous as this all started blowing up because people are cruel and this is a very sensitive time for me. But I never imagined so many people would stand behind me in a situation like this and that has outweighed all the negativity by far. I am beyond grateful for you all. I am in a tremendous amount of pain but i am ready for this road to recovery so I can get back to my life. I will continue to update everyone over the course of my recovery but thank you once again for EVERYTHING 🙏🏽