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Sex workers' union efforts documented in the engaging 'Live Nude Girls UNITE!'

By Mike Connor

VIDEO CAMERAS aren't allowed at the Lusty Lady strip club in San Francisco, but four years ago one of its employees, Julia Query, took one to work anyway. The exotic dancer and her co-workers were fighting to form the first strippers' union in the country, and Query intended to document their struggle for better wages and working conditions. The result was Live Nude Girls UNITE!, one of over 20 films featured in the May Day Labor Film Festival running at various venues in Santa Cruz County through Saturday.

"If I had known what I was getting into when I started this film, I wouldn't have done it," laughs first-time director Query about her difficulty in making the documentary. "But I believed in banding together, unionizing and fighting for better working conditions. And as a performance artist, writer and standup comic, I know that the way you tell people about important issues is through a story, through humor, through imagery."

Ironically, it was a video camera that got the workers' pasties in a twist to begin with. Women perform as clients peer in through little windows surrounding the dance floor. Some of the windows were one-way mirrors, presumably for shy clientele. When the dancers noticed the flashing red light of a recording video camera from behind a mirror, they freaked. Visions of themselves featured on internet porn sites prompted the dancers to call security, but the cameraman escaped.

"You're being taken advantage of on a number of levels ... You don't know where those images are going to turn up," says a dancer named Star. "Management said that if you can't live with it, you shouldn't be working here." Word spread, and soon the women of the Lusty Lady--over 80 dancers in all--were fighting for more than just the removal of the one-way mirrors. They demanded stable wages, sick days, scheduling equality (dancers were scheduled based on race and breast size) and a "just cause" clause in their contracts that would require management to justify their reasons for firing dancers. Armed with a High-8 camera and a wicked sense of humor, Query & Co. banded together to strobe-light the strip joint's shady dealings.

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From the May 1-8, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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