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Exercising Your Rights in the Time of COVID

The year 2020 will live in all of our minds forever. For myself, it’s the year I found fulfillment and purpose in organizing, using my voice and standing up for myself after feeling terrified, unsure, used and disrespected. I wasn’t alone.

At the time, we knew — and still know — that [solidcore] coaches and community members had tested positive for COVID-19 and frequented our studios while positive. Leadership chose to defy Washington, D.C., regulations on COVID-19, putting not only coaches and clients at risk, but also the larger community. It is through this experience, along with encountering many other serious issues, that Solidcore United was born.

At Solidcore United, we are working to bring about positive and sustainable change where all coaches can have a seat at the decision-making table. If anyone is up for this challenge, it’s the fitness community.

Many industries have struggled during the pandemic, but that does not excuse the liberties taken with employees’ health and safety. Multiple communities and companies have handled the pandemic with grace and compassion for their employees’ and clients’ safety. Those same companies based their decisions on widely accepted and proven science, and allowed the communities they serve to have an active voice in these decisions.

To make our fitness communities better, we need to enter into the future together — with a clear path to a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive industry.

Finding control amid chaos

Just over a year after our founding, the facts still ring true: Fitness professionals across the country are dealing with dangerous health and safety protocols, unfair wage practices, systemic harassment and discrimination. It is clear that we must demand our voices be heard to ensure workplace changes are negotiated, rather than imposed.

Organizing your workplace is a proven way to regain some sense of control when you believe that management is not responding to employees’ basic needs, such as transparency, health, and safety.

Since June 2020, we’ve had two major accomplishments, with the most significant being the formal conversion of all coaching staff to W-2 employees. Other notable wins throughout the past year include the installation of higher-quality air filters in all studios and the implementation of “mask mandatory” classes. None of which would have happened without the work of the brave and vocal members of Solidcore United.

While we are dealing with some particulars specific to our situation, our story is not unique — the treatment of fitness coaches is pervasive and affects the whole industry.

What I’ve learned

Advocacy for organizing and unionizing within the fitness industry is a win/win situation for all parties involved. This is not “us vs. them.” This is a movement to work as a community for the future of the industry.

It’s no secret that there is strength in numbers. At Solidcore United, we’ve sought to hear the personal stories of every single coach, and to learn what issues are important to them. All are welcome, and open conversation serves to drive the overall direction of the group’s goals and initiatives. Understanding that while there are many issues to be addressed and improved, the best way to tackle them is for coaches to have a united voice that is louder and more powerful than that of any one person. We did not invent this idea. Collective action works.

When coaches unite, negotiating power increases — but this only works if people are educated about unions and if employers are receptive to feedback and actively willing to work together. [solidcore] and many other fitness communities need legally binding power with more strength than a company-sponsored coalition. Coaches need protection from retaliation and a trustworthy outlet to file grievances – and we will not have nearly sufficient protections without a union.

The future and final thoughts

Our organization will serve as a united voice demanding positive, sustainable change and a collaborative employee/employer relationship. We will continue to educate the community about the process of unionization and its benefits in the hope that we can successfully form one of the country’s first unions of fitness professionals.

We’re confident, and have been for a long time, that [solidcore] management knows why coaches are unhappy and what it is that we need. We know from many personal accounts that gaslighting and retaliation stand in our way. Since Solidcore United first became vocal, leadership has entered into union-busting overdrive: sending emails warning coaches to only bring grievances to management, monitoring the social media of coaches and forming a hand-picked “coaches council” that does not adequately represent the hundreds of coaches across the country.

My hope for the future is that more people will learn about organizations such as ours and inquire into successful unions. The more we talk about the need for organizing in the fitness space, the more companies will need to address the issue and have actual conversations. There are going to be growing pains — and organizing will continue to be demonized by corporations. But we must focus on ensuring these issues never happen again, and work together to make the industry better for the future.

You too can find your power in advocacy. One cannot limit the rich and successful history of labor organizing in the United States to just one industry — fitness in the time of COVID is simply my personal story. While it can be tempting to succumb to the feelings of helplessness many of us feel in the face of these large and overwhelming issues, I hope that in sharing my experiences others will join me in the realization that anything is possible when we come together.

 

Rachel Hornstein is a Washington, D.C., resident, Solidcore United founding member and former [solidcore] coach.

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