David Cooley’s decision several weeks ago to cut the pay of the go go dancers at The Abbey by 25% has gotten pushback on social media from some of those dancers and their supporters, at least one of whom has called for a boycott of the popular gay bar and restaurant. That pushback led Cooley recently to restore the dancers’ pay to its previous level, and also to fire at least one of those who complained.
The dancers, freelancers who work roughly four hours a night, were being paid $100 a night until Cooley asked them to dance one of four sets for free, effectively reducing their pay to $75 a night. In an email to the dancers, he criticized them for not working hard enough or being in good enough shape. He also told them to stop socializing with the bar customers who traditionally tip them and pose for photos with them.
The Abbey, West Hollywood’s most heavily trafficked bar, is known for the talent of its go go dancers, who actually are screened for their skills and perform complicated acts such as flipping over elevated bars and dancing high on poles. By comparison, most other gay bars feature only men in jockstraps who shuffle their feet.
A post on Facebook by one dancer, Michael Benjamin Volkar, whose professional name is Teddy Bear, sounded the alarm over the pay cuts. That post, shared on Instagram and Twitter, has since been removed. It read, in part:
“David Cooley is one of the richest men in Los Angeles, his bar The Abbey is the most profitable bar in West Hollywood (known around the world) but that doesn’t stop his greed. Recently minimum wage was increased in Los Angeles, to counter this he thought of a (evil) genius idea to cut THE DANCERS pay by the equivalent of asking us to dance one set for FREE now!
“Oh … but it doesn’t stop there, the pay cut also came with a long message reminding every dance that they are replaceable and that they should be danc(ing) even harder and can be fired at any moment (on top of the pay cut)
“Also we are no longer allowed to talk to customers when we are on the box, so if a dancer won’t take a pic or say hi to you…don’t get mad at them, the dancers were all told we are no longer allowed to interact with customers unless on our break (though we’ve also been told not to hang out on the floor on our break too..)”
WEHOville reached out to Cooley and to his publicist, who said they had no comment on the matter.
“$25 may not sound like much to some, but to MANY of his employees that is make or break for if they get to eat this week,” Teddy Bear said in his Facebook post. “Many of the dancers a(re) struggling to survive with multiple jobs and work their asses off to give the community the best experience every single weekend. And with this pay cut and threats from David it is a low blow to the Community, it is a disgusting power trip from a rich rich RICH man.
“So if you care about the community, if you care about fair pay and honestly human decency … please join with me, and #BOYCOTTTheAbbey
“I am well aware after he gets wind of this I will be fired. But I care more about the lives of the other dancers that it’s worth standing up for what’s right.”
Volkar posted on Twitter later today that he had been fired and banned from returning to The Abbey and The Chapel, its adjacent bar.
Cooley also was subject of criticism (and also some support) when he called on LGBT people in July to boycott Alaska Airlines, a major supporter of the LGBT community, after his traveling companion on a trip from New York City to Los Angeles was asked to move from a “premium” seat to a seat in the economy section of the plane. The flight attendant apparently said that the seat already had been reserved by another couple, who were heterosexual.