GoodLife instructors, personal trainers campaigning for union

Fitness instructors and personal trainers at GoodLife Fitness in Toronto are campaigning to form a union to address a number of concerns, including lack of workers’ compensation coverage.

These workers are particularly concerned about acute, one-time injuries as well as repetitive strain injuries.

One group fitness instructor was teaching a class when she slipped a disk in her back. She was not able to teach at GoodLife for eight months and she was off work at her day job for six months. (Most fitness instructors are part-time while all personal trainers are full-time employees.)

It wasn’t until after she was injured that she realized she did not have workers’ compensation coverage.

“If they get injured, they’re completely out on their own,” said Tanya Ferguson, organizing co-ordinator at the Workers United Canada Council, which is seeking to represent the fitness professionals. “It compromises their full-time work and there’s substantial financial hardship on them.”

GoodLife, which is headquartered in London, Ont., is on the list of industries that are exempt from registering with Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Health clubs, insurance companies, travel agencies, hair salons and funeral directors are just some examples of exempt industries.

Vice-president of people and culture at GoodLife, Alana Free, said the company had previously considered voluntarily registering with the WSIB but decided against it as the company’s focus is on prevention.

“Patch (David Patchell-Evans), the owner of GoodLife, often talks about how we’re the new health care. Our whole goal is eat well, treat your body well, exercise properly,” said Free. “Our philosophy as a company is let’s bring in education, let’s bring in training, let’s make sure we bring in other programs so that people don’t get hurt in the first place. Let’s spend our dollars there so we can have healthy, happy associates.”

GoodLife offers a range of health and safety training and awareness sessions, including general safety, first aid and CPR, WHMIS, violence and harassment and mental wellness. Instructors and personal trainers are also required to go through specific training to receive the appropriate certification before they can start teaching a class or taking on clients.

“They learn how to do things properly and how to teach other people but you’re also learning how to make sure you stay safe as well. So they know how to do a proper squat, how to lift things properly, they know when you push a weight over your shoulders you want to have it slightly in front of your body instead of behind to keep your shoulders safe,” said Free.

If an instructor or personal trainer does sustain an injury, GoodLife works with the individual to develop  a personalized return-to-work plan.

“The big thing is let’s get them back to work as soon as it’s safe and let’s do a graduated program so they can come back and not re-injure themselves,” said Free.

Instructors and personal trainers also have access to an employee assistance program, medical benefits and short- and long-term disability leave. 

By forming a union these workers would be able to bargain for access to WSIB coverage and income protection in the event of a workplace injury, said Ferguson.

“These guys are saying, ‘We want to stick together, we don’t want to be putting our necks out and saying we should do this and now I’m the troublemaker and I lose my job or I’m sort of banned from the industry.’”

Other key issues fitness professionals say they are facing include low wages and insufficient hours, not being adequately compensated for time worked and having to pay for training and uniforms.

Workers United is in the process of collecting union cards. The group is aiming for support from 65 per cent of instructors and personal trainers, even though the law requires only 40 per cent. If the union is successful in Toronto, it could expand to other jurisdictions that have expressed interest, such as Ottawa and Calgary. GoodLife has more then 350 clubs across the country.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of COS.