It’s a brand built around “passion, peak attitude, and happiness,” to name a few of GoodLife Fitness’s so-called core values. But employees’ complaints of low wages, onerous training costs, and lack of injury insurance at Canada’s largest health club have some wondering why those principles don’t seem to apply to them.
In the face of growing insecurity, personal coaches and class instructors at Toronto-area GoodLifes have launched a unionization campaign to reclaim the company they say is undermining its praiseworthy vision by ignoring workers’ grievances.
“It’s completely gone from what used to be a professional good job to just kind of like the rest of them — trying to find ways to make it cheaper,” said Tanya Ferguson, an organizer with Workers United Canada Council, which is seeking to represent employees.
It’s a far cry from your typical union drive, which for many still conjures up images of the factory shop floor. Corporate gym chains are rarely unionized, but Ferguson said jobs like fitness instructor are the new frontier of precarious work.
GoodLife denies that suggestion, and says its instructor pay is “on par” with other gyms and that compensation is based on education, experience, training and certifications, and regional differences.
The Toronto Star has previously reported on a recent Ministry of Labour inspection blitz focusing on precarious employment, which found that numerous gyms, including GoodLife Fitness, had violated the Employment Standards Act.
The union campaign began after staff say their concerns were largely ignored by GoodLife management. Employees argue their wages fall far below the industry standard — for example, a group fitness instructor starts at $25 an hour, while the industry average sits around $50 an hour. Instructors are only paid for the number of minutes they spend in direct contact with clients even though they are asked to arrive 15 minutes before classes and stay 15 minutes after.
The same applies to personal coaches, who may spend eight hours a day at the gym but will only get paid for the time spent with clients — which can vary wildly. While the gym charges clients up to $80 an hour, personal coaches often take home as little as $30 of that, workers said.
GoodLife instructors and trainers do not have injury insurance through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, their prospective union added. The fitness industry is exempt from mandatory contributions to WSIB, but Workers United Canada Council researcher Navjeet Sidhu says employers can still voluntarily opt in or provide private insurance instead.
“It’s very physical work and if they get injured they’re basically on their own in terms of supporting themselves because they have this non-compete clause they can’t go anywhere else,” Sidhu said.
The non-compete clause is also a bone of contention: all instructors must pay for their own training and annual membership with CanFitPro (owned by GoodLife), which provides them with national and international certification. But despite often struggling to scrape together enough hours to survive, GoodLife employees say they are barred from teaching external classes.
“It’s resulting in a very high turnover in staff which is beneficial for the company,” Sidhu said. “A new pool of workers to pay into the certification process.”
In response to questions from the Star, GoodLife said employees received a rebate for a “large portion” of their training, and said instructors could teach elsewhere as long as it did not “interfere” with their position at GoodLife and the classes did not take place at another gym or with a competitor.
The company said it was not required by law to contribute to WSIB but that it provided health benefits for employees working more than 24 hours a week at the gym and was “firmly committed to health and safety in the workplace.”
“We respect our employees’ right to make their own choice, but we do not believe that our employees need a union,” the statement added.
The union says it filed an unfair labour practice complaint alleging retribution against a union supporter. GoodLife told the Star the employee was terminated for unrelated reasons. The matter resulted in a confidential settlement at the Ontario Labour Relations Board.