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Yoga Instructors Want Flexibility to Freelance

By Mary Johnson | August 13, 2012 7:05am

NEW YORK — Yoga instructors in New York are leading a fight against the state to Department of Labor to preserve their flexibility — not just on the mat but as independent contractors able to work for multiple studios.

The vast majority of yoga teachers in New York run classes at a variety of studios and do not work as employees of any one business. Schuyler Grant, a yoga instructor and owner of the Kula Yoga Project in TriBeCa and Williamsburg, said most prefer that arrangement.

But the Department of Labor has launched an effort to require that they become employees of a studio in order to teach.

Grant said this is not something most yoga instructors want, and the change would endanger all but the largest studios.

“Both as a teacher and as a studio owner, I truly believe that there are few jobs that better fill the description of an independent contractor than a yoga teacher,” Grant said.

“They're teaching all over the city,” she continued. “They pay for their own trainings. They’re paying for the ongoing development of their businesses.”

Forcing yoga instructors to become employees would create an enormous burden for yoga studios in the form of administrative costs and insurance fees, Grant explained.

Those costs would force many smaller yoga studios to shut down, she added. And the larger, more profitable studios would in turn limit their roster of teachers to save money.

“It would completely change the tenor of the New York yoga community, which is very diverse,” Grant said.

“It’s a lose for the employees. It’s a lose for the business owners and, at the end of the day, it’s a lose for the state because I truly believe that they would have a net loss of income coming in.”

Yelimar Rodriguez, 27, teaches vinyasa at three different studios throughout Manhattan. She said she wasn't fully aware of all the implications that would come with becoming an employee of an individual studio. But working independently has always appealed to her.

"I do appreciate the fact that I get to control my own hours," said Rodriguez, who lives in Midtown and also works as a women's weight loss coach.

"I also value the fact that I can write off my expenses."

Rodriguez said she was also concerned that, if she was forced to become a studio employee, the studio could dictate how she teaches classes. And she wondered if employee status would limit her to working at one studio rather than rotating between several.

"I don’t know anyone who’s making more than $25 or $30,000 a year just teaching yoga,” Rodriguez said.

“Those limitations as to how many studios you can teach at and how you can create your own schedule might also affect us in the realm of how much we make.”

State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who recently helped stave off a push to force yoga studios to pay the city’s 4.5 percent sales tax, said she has been working with the state Department of Labor to help yoga instructors keep their independent contractor status.

“Yoga teachers want to be independent contractors,” Rosenthal said in an interview.

“It’s not like they work a full day every day at a particular place,” she added. “Most of them have to have multiple jobs.”

Rosenthal said that much of this most recent push to reclassify yoga instructors stems from a misunderstanding about the job and what it entails. But the Labor Department representatives she has spoken with seem open to working with those in the yoga community to write industry-specific guidelines.

“They seemed very interested in learning about how the yoga instructors and the studios approached their jobs,” said Rosenthal.

“They also heard from some of the instructors about how they manage to teach yoga and do other jobs so that they can live in New York City.”

Rosenthal said she hopes the Department of Labor will come to a resolution on this matter soon.

“I urged them to do it rapidly because there’s no reason that this should go on for months and months,” Rosenthal said.

“Everyone needs to get a clear understanding of how they will be classified.”