Ned Resnikoff, our resident reporter on labor issues, published an article this week about the financial struggles of yoga teachers. Many of you had questions about why this topic should be considered homepage worthy – Ned takes on those concerns and many more in the Q & A below.
Is this really a story that merits the home page of a network?
A few people have asked me why this story matters. For me, the most interesting thing about yoga instructors is precisely the fact that many people don’t seem to consider them “workers” in the traditional sense. That helps to explain the incredulous attitude so many readers had to this article. Nobody asks why a story about, say, school teachers or truck drivers counts as news. But for whatever reason, yoga instructors don’t count.
That seems a little odd to me. It’s a skilled service profession, typically requiring some form of accreditation. People do get paid, albeit not very much, for rendering the services in question. So what makes it not-work? To flip the question around, why are stories about yoga instructors not considered to be labor stories?
I can think of a couple possible reasons. One is the widely held perception that yoga instructors are pursuing a hobby, despite the money involved. Another related reason is the casual, precarious nature of the work, which differentiates it from a full-time, salaried position. And a third, less charitable explanation, has to do with the gender breakdown of yoga instructors. Most of them are women, and feminized labor is often dismissed as not being “real” work.
None of these issues are unique to yoga instruction. Domestic work is often marginalized and separated out from “real” labor for similar reasons. Truck drivers – not a group you’d ever expect to see compared to yoga instructors, I imagine – recently went on strike, complaining that they’ve been misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees. One of the people I interviewed, Adri Frick, suggested that something very similar happens in the yoga world.
The marginalization of feminized labor, the confusion over who deserves to be counted as an employee, and the insistence that workers who “do what they love” shouldn’t also demand fair workplace treatment – these are all issues that confront a growing segment of the American labor force. I’ve spent most of my career writing about these issues. By writing about yoga instructors, I hoped to tackle them from a slightly different angle.
Yoga injuries are very common. What happens to yoga teachers who are injured, either on the job or in their personal practice? As independent contractors, are they eligible for workers’ comp if injured on the job?
Most yoga instructors are independent contractors, so employers are under no obligation to provide workers’ comp. I asked Adri Frick, one of the yogis I interviewed about this; she said that injuries are relatively uncommon, but the threat of getting hurt and being unable to work is “something that haunts a lot of us.”
CNA’s (Certified Nursing Assistants) go through the same thing. And they take care of the elderly and are paid very low, have erratic hours, no health insurance and end up with back injuries due to lifting patients. […] When you pick a career, you better pick something that will pay a high wage. […] The only thing that counts are English and Math scores! Forget all the other junk.
The thing about picking a high-wage career is that unemployment is elevated across the board, even in STEM industries like engineering and so on. Just today, the Economic Policy Institute observed that unemployment in just about every field – including finance, health care, and business services – far outstrips the number of available job openings. So what are these other careers that thousands of yoga instructors should be crossing into?
There’s a reason why the gig economy, which includes yoga teachers and other independent contractors, is expanding so quickly: With unemployment so elevated among full-time professionals, freelancing on the side might be the only way to pay the bills. It just so happens that when you dive into the precarious world of independent contracting, you expose yourself to a whole host of other risks.
Did you factor in how people doing hot yoga must smell? People exposed to that every day deserve our support.
Actually, for many hot yoga instructors-in-training, the risks are even worse than that. The original “hot yoga” practice is Bikram Yoga, the copyright-protected method developed by Bikram Choudhury. As I noted in the article, Choudhury has been accused of systematically abusive behavior in his training seminars.
Be sure to check out Ned’s story, then post your own reactions in the comments.