Why Do Yoga Teachers Need to Unionize?

Yoga Teachers Want to Unionize
Photo by Hanuman Festival 

It may be surprising to learn that there currently is not any sort of union or official organization to protect instructors’ rights in the yoga industry. The yoga industry has grown in popularity, with nearly 40 million people practicing yoga in the USA, which is valued at over $16 billion per year. Yoga instructors have started to realize that they are not themselves getting a fair slice of the yoga business pie. These teachers are hoping a union will allow them to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Yoga teachers organize to form a union

This year over a thousand yoga teachers, mostly employed with the YogaWorks chain of yoga studios, have been getting together and starting to unionize. This has sent ripples through the yoga community as this is the first time in the industry’s history that anything like this has happened. The working conditions for instructors have been overlooked for too long now, and the noble teachers are starting to take a stand. Teachers of yoga are complaining about poor working conditions, unfair practices and low pay.

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Often yoga teachers are being forced to work many hours outside of those for which they are paid. Many of the employees of YogaWorks have realized that yoga teachers in New York City and other cities are earning less than what’s considered the poverty line, which is extremely troubling, not only for instructors themselves but also for those who study yoga.

Yoga teachers are often expected to plan their lessons, create music playlists, promote their classes on social media, take advanced trainings, show up early for classes, and stay after to meet and answer student’s questions. When all this is added up, the rate of pay for instructors falls well below the minimum living wage in America. This has led instructors to start to band together and demand higher wages so that they can maintain a proper standard of living while they work. Many of the instructors pointed out that if they were not already financially comfortable, they would be unable to work in the industry, which is clearly unacceptable.

Markella Los was recently interviewed by NPR and noted that “One of the biggest issues that we face as yoga teachers at YogaWorks but also in the industry as a whole is the lack of job security. We are at-will employees, which means that we could be let go at any time for any reason with zero severance. We also don’t have any benefits. So even though our job is physically demanding and sort of emotionally and mentally demanding, we don’t have any benefits that other workers typically have.”

This month, over 100 members of the YogaWorks asked the company to recognize a union in the yoga teaching industry. Leaders of the campaign point out that the need to unionize is essential for instructors across the country and not just in the extremely expensive New York City from which their actions are based. The instructors that are leading this campaign point out the difficulties in obtaining health insurance under current conditions as well as low pay.



How will unions impact the yoga industry?

The creation of a union in the yoga industry will undoubtedly shake up the industry, and in fact, things have become so heated that many yoga instructors fear to speak out publicly as a result of potential retribution. Instructors, however, hope that the creation of a union will maintain their levels of pay at a living wage, but the impact will be far more widespread than that.

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If the wages of instructors are raised as a result of their unionizing, this may lead to an increase in the cost of classes for their students. This is not necessarily a bad thing; however, even for the students of yoga. Students will come to value their classes, and instructors, far more if they have to pay a reasonable amount for the classes that they value so much already. Having better pay and working conditions will encourage good yoga teachers to work harder at becoming great at what they do. The yoga industry is huge and booming in the USA, but a yoga teacher union may dampen further opportunities for the market to grow.

The actions of these teachers is having wide-reaching implications in the American yoga industry, for companies, students, and the teachers themselves. One of the most significant changes is that through unionizing, the yoga teachers are creating a platform from where their voices and concerns can be heard. It allows them to talk with one another and vote on issues that impact them. Using the collective bargaining power of a union, they will be able to make changes that will help them ensure fair wages, better working conditions, and ultimately allow them to provide their students with a better service.

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