Following Babeland, Pleasure Chest Workers Are Unionizing

Photo: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images.
This article was originally published on July 13, 2017.
On June 29th, employees of Manhattan sex toy utopia Pleasure Chest decided unanimously to unionize after concerns that the store's management had failed to ensure their comfort and safety.
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Following in the footsteps of Babeland, which was the first sex shop in the country to unionize, Pleasure Chest workers sat through a meeting with company representatives for over 10 hours, arguing for better benefits and protections, especially for LGBTQ workers. Given that the toy supplier's staff is mostly women, queer, or non-male identified, these protections are even more paramount. Among the workers' demands were fair wages, de-escalation tactics, and safety protocols for moments when customers cross lines.
Working in sex retail can bring up many of the same challenges faced by sex workers, including harassment and judgment from customers. As Nico Fuentes, who is a sex specialist at the retailer, said in a comment to the New York Post, “This is not just regular retail. The job is really loaded and, as a worker, you are sexualized by the public." It can be hard to feel safe at work, a concern that management has previously failed to improve, she added. And that lack of safety isn't just coming from customers — Fuentes also cited a "blatant disregard for our gender identities during the organizing campaign" from higher-ups as another factor of the workers' dissatisfaction.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union stated in a press release on Friday that Pleasure Chest reached out to them after the union's success representing Babeland in February of this year. "Creating a sex positive experience for customers in the adult retail industry always comes with its own set of challenges and emotional labor," Sales Associate Emma Schledorn shared in the release. Among them, evidently, is organizing for better working conditions — RWDSU called Pleasure Chest's pushback to the unionizing move "the largest union busting campaign ever launched by the industry."
Stuart Appelbaum, President of RWDSU, said "the harassment and categorically tone-deaf anti-union campaign lead by Jackson Lewis and Labor Relations International that the workers at Pleasure Chest faced [was] an outrage – I am proud that the RWDSU will be at the bargaining table to ensure that these workers never face that type of horrific transphobic behavior by their company again."
As a non-binary person who uses they/them pronouns, being misgendered is no novelty occurrence for PC Sex Specialist Matan Farris. But in the already-charged environment of a sex store, that can be much harder to bounce back from. "We’re trained to meet folks where they are, and have a generous attitude towards the societal implications of coming into a sex-positive space, but it's hard to do so when we're constantly on defense and the resources to process and decompress just aren't provided to us by management," they said in a comment to Refinery29.
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"Recently, I experienced a sharp increase in subway harassment on my way to and from work, and as a result had to change my route and take two trains rather than one to avoid a particular hotspot," Farris continued. "I notified management that I was adjusting to a new commute and why and though they expressed understanding I still received negative feedback regarding timeliness on my annual review and ostensibly missed out on a promotion because my competition had a 'slightly better' attendance record." They added that management has a "clear record of verbally supporting us, but punishing and retaliating against us on paper for taking steps to protect ourselves in and around the store."
Of the demands, Farris and their coworkers are specifically asking for deescalation training to help deal with the "abusive, transphobic, racist and sexist behavior" they often experience from customers. "We think that our physical and emotional safety at work is more important than management's bottom line, and we will negotiate for mechanisms that take our well being into account and hold management responsible for being present and reachable when these issues arise."
"We voted unanimously to join the RWDSU to hold management accountable and demand a safe workplace, a living wage and a fair contract that reflects the highly specialized and sensitive nature of our work," Farris concluded.
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