Yoga Instructors Are the Latest Gig Workers to Unionize

A union drive at one of the nation’s largest yoga chains is the latest sign that the gig economy is fertile ground for organized labor.
September 12, 2019, 7:03pm
Getty/Michael Bezjian

As Uber and Lyft drivers gear up for an unprecedented union drive in California, another group of gig workers in New York City, also fed up with low wages and a dearth of benefits, is taking steps to form a union.

On Monday, yoga instructors at one of the country’s largest yoga chains, YogaWorks, asked the private equity firm that owns them to recognize their union, The New York Times reported. These yoga instructors would be the first in the $16 billion industry to unionize.


YogaWorks instructors asked for recognition of a union the same day California passed a bill that will reclassify gig workers in the state as employees. In a historic first, rideshare drivers and other app-based workers in the state will soon be eligible to unionize.

Major national unions including Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Amalgamated Transit Union have already begun taking steps to unionize rideshare drivers. Meanwhile, Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have pledged to spend $90 million on a ballot initiative to exempt themselves from the bill.

Instructors at rapidly growing yoga start-ups like CorePower and YogaWorks have complaints similar to those voiced by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and other app workers. Many juggle multiple jobs that offer part-time work with no job security or access to basic labor protections like worker’s compensation, overtime pay, or unemployment insurance—making their lives an endless scramble from one yoga studio to the next. Teachers complain about spending hours preparing for classes without compensation.

Like Uber, Lyft, and other apps, many yoga companies refuse to recognize their workers as employees. (YogaWorks does recognize their workers as employees, but makes no guarantee of hours, leading instructors to juggle multiple gigs at once.)

YogaWorks instructors say that the union drive emerged out of a collective desire for benefits, more transparency over pay rates, and standards for raises.

Responding to the union drive, YogaWorks executives sent an email to New York instructors warning that the union would be looking to collect dues from workers, The New York Times reported. The union seeking to represent the workers—the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers—has recently circulated cards to YogaWorks instructors, gauging support for the union. The email from YogaWorks its instructors ended with a mandate from the company: “DON’T SIGN A CARD.”

After decades of declining support for unions, a Gallup poll from August found national support for unions at 64 percent—close to a 50 year high. Women, people of color, and youth, demographics which make up a disproportionate share of the gig economy, led the way in showing support for unions.

Building a union movement in the gig economy—a young, disjointed, and thus far unorganized sector of the workforce—will require organizers to develop new, innovative tactics that will differ from those historically used in other industries.

YogaWorks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.