For Sex Workers in Canada, a 'Historic Moment'

Nation's oldest sex-worker group unionizes
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 22, 2021 2:08 PM CDT
For Sex Workers in Canada, a 'Historic Moment'
A demonstrator holds a sign during a rally to support Toronto sex workers on Dec. 20, 2013, in Toronto.   (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Mark Blinch)

The Canadian Union of Public Employees has a new group under its wings, in a big first for labor rights in the nation. Vice reports that the Toronto-based Maggie's, the nation's oldest sex-workers organization, has unionized under CUPE, the first such push by sex workers to stand up for their rights on everything from wage docking and underemployment to transphobia and racism in the workplace. The new union is for Maggie's employees only, but sex workers are hoping such a move inspires other sex workers throughout Canada to also unionize.

"This is such big news for the sex worker rights movement on a national level," says a peer outreach worker at Maggie’s, founded by a sex worker and a gay activist in 1986, notes NOW Magazine. "It brings us a step closer to recognizing the legitimacy of our labor and the absolute need to decriminalize sex work." Sex workers who've unionized in other countries—including Spain, the Netherlands, and the UK—are working toward that very end, in the hopes of reducing stigma and bring more safety to the industry.

Sex workers who talked to Vice detail long shifts without breaks, a lack of time off, pay docking by clubs, fatphobia, ageism, and shoddy treatment by agents—"the same as being a woman in any workplace!" one stripper told the outlet in 2019. Discrimination is an issue, too: One Black stripper, for example, says she's been told to wear her hair straight, not in braids, all as club managers insist: "We're not racist; we hired you."

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In fact, a statement from Maggie's staff, cited in a release, notes that this "historic moment" is particularly important for "queer and trans, Black, Indigenous, and sex workers of color at our organization who have not had the same privileges, access to employment, fair working conditions, or labor rights." One Maggie's outreach worker, Jassie Justice, tells Vice that although the group's "incredible" and diverse staff works hard to offer support and services to sex workers, the industry has been historically white, and issues remain. "Even the most progressive organization can benefit from a union," Justice notes. (Read more sex workers stories.)

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