Photo credit — NC Raise Up, used with permission
This month, Planet Fitness workers in Durham, North Carolina went on strike. Workers walked off after being forced to work with no air conditioning, with temperatures reaching 85 degrees Fahrenheit inside the gym bringing tensions to a boiling point. The demands listed by the workers at the MLK Jr Parkway Planet Fitness included a repair to the air conditioners, an end to sexual harassment, at least $15 an hour, and for their right to organize to be respected by Planet Fitness.
In the two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Planet Fitness has recovered most of the business that was lost due to regulations and self-quarantining of customers. Gym membership numbers have returned to their pre-pandemic levels, and shares of Planet Fitness stocks have been surging. Yet, no adequate safety protocol has been put in place.
Meanwhile, Planet Fitness CEO Chris Rondeau, whose net worth is $253 million, has celebrated the recovery of profits, saying “All the winds are blowing the right direction, and the sails are wide open.” In stark contrast to this, according to payscale.com the average rate for hourly employees at Planet Fitness is a dismal $11.46 per hour .
To get a ground level understanding of the conditions within Planet Fitness, Liberation interviewed Durham resident, Raise Up member, and Planet Fitness front desk associate Devine Evans. After four and a half months of working at the store, Evans organized his coworkers in what eventually led to a walk out and strike at Planet Fitness on MLK Jr Pkwy .
According to Evans, the issues that led to this strike include: “AC being broken. Temperatures 100 degrees through the summertime in the gym. No good COVID-19 safety procedure. No consistent availability to mask. It is not mandatory for workers to wear masks. Some of coworkers dealing with sexual harassment on a daily basis or weekly basis, on and off the clock. Being understaffed and overworked. Retaliation for organizing in the workplace.”
Workers empowering each other
Evans has been a worker-leader with Raise Up for five years. He said organizing came easy, because “I knew who had my back. It just took me to show my coworkers who had their back. Show them to the right people.”
Evans talked to his shift lead about the need to be respected because he knew the workers at Planet Fitness deserved better. The day they both walked off the job on September 1 during an emergency strike, they were both taken off the schedule. Afterwards, they carried out a five-day strike starting on Labor day, and now they are both back on the schedule!
Evans recalled how management would praise the shift lead, as she was someone who was never late, only took two sick days, and was completely overworked but never respected. Devine noted how she sat faithfully and saw her working hard everyday. He knew she “deserve[d] to be respected” and asked her to take “hand to hand, foot to foot” and walk out together. Then when management just brushed her off, it was “show[ing] you how much he truly cares about you.”
Planet Fitness was not the only store on strike on Labor Day. There were three other stores: Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Zaxbys. Evans shared with Liberation News how workers at the other stores “all spoke out about the same issues they were facing on their job: low wage, no COVID-19 safety protocol, sexual harassment, overworked. I do not work in fast food, but we are all workers facing the same issues.”
Evans spoke about the power of worker actions at “four different main corporations in the triangle. We hit all four in one day.” He told Liberation News he felt “very proud of that day and [to] do it on Labor Day. A day made for people like us.”
Workers from all four corporations concluded the day with a big cookout. Devine recalls the celebration, “We talked about our victory. It was beautiful. It was a good day.”
Worker action leads to concrete wins
After the workers walked out, Planet Fitness was forced to recognize the workers’ value and began to meet their demands. So far, the air conditioning has been completely repaired, there is probation for sexual harrasment and ongoing investigations, and interviews are being conducted to hire more staff, showing that when workers organize they can pressure management to meet their demands.
When Evans spoke about organizing he said it’s about coming together. Every worker has their rights and resources, and together workers have the power to fight for better conditions. Evans shared with Liberation News his commitment to raising workers’ awareness of their rights, the reality that organizing works and the importance of solidarity – sharing the example how thousands of people viewed a video of him and his coworkers walking out.
When asked what the next steps were after the strike, Evans responded, “Going to different Planet Fitness locations. Organize those stores. See the similarity in those locations. We are a big corporation, we are not just coming to the store on MLK Pkwy in Durham, NC – we are coming for the corporation of Planet Fitness. We’re literally getting sick on this job, we do not just cover the desk, we are also cleaning, not just a quick sweep or mop, we are cleaning treadmills, we are doing a lot.”
When it comes to organizing in your community, Evans said, “Really connect with your coworkers, learn about the issues on the job, organize, talk to them. If you’re part of Fight for 15, if you know about it, get involved. And stand up, speak out, fight back. Don’t be scared. There are ways to fight. There are resources. You have the right to organize.”
If you want to help the workers at Planet Fitness, Evans referred to the Planet Fitness customers who “come in everyday who ask us how we’re doing and giving us a smile, stand up for us!” He also said to watch for events hosted by organizers to learn more about the struggles they are facing and more ways to contribute to the growing cause.
Devine Evans concluded the interview saying, “If you want to help the cause, organize, because you only get what you organize to take.”