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Yoga For New York Says Sit Tight

On Friday, October 17, a group of yogis gathered at Yoga Union to discuss pressing issues in the NYC yoga community. The meeting was led by Alison West, Yoga for New York’s Executive Director, and was broadcast via live webinar for out-of-city yogis. She opened with three OMs.

The first issue: a factual snag that was published and then debated across the Internet. The misinformationinvolved the legal case of Yoga Vida owner Mike Patton.

To recap:

Patton’s case “started when the State came to us with a slightly uninformed employee questionnaire,” he said.

In 2010, New York State informed Patton that he must reclassify his teachers from independent contractors to employees. “It’s been a 4-5 year process…I don’t want to tell you how much time and money we’ve spent fighting this,” Patton added.

He is now waiting to be granted a hearing in the NY State Court of Appeals, but he’s concerned. “Albany hears about 1000 cases a year, and rejects about 93% of all applicants.”

If the case is rejected, the State could use this as a precedent in future lawsuits to influence the yoga industry.

The publication that covered Patton’s current situation implied that a “blanket ruling” would be issued, forcing all yoga businesses to reclassify their teachers. But this is false. “Every audit is different, and this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone,” West said, relieving many in the room.

She emphasized the importance of quick communication among members of the yoga community. “The more we know in a timely fashion, the more we can work with State reps in a constructive way,” she added.

It looks like the State wants to reclassify everyone as employees, in all professions. “We also want to be in touch with other businesses that are going through the same thing to see how and/or what works,” West said.

Another issue involved Worker’s Comp.

When MJ Watkins opened NY Loves Yoga on the UES, she was hit with back taxes from the previous business. She was also informed that she had to provide Worker’s Comp.

“Yoga businesses really aren’t like any other businesses,” Watkins said. “I was put in a position of saying that I would either take the insurance or face a State mediator that wouldn’t help me,” she said. After a lengthy ordeal, Watkins purchased Worker’s Comp. It seemed to be the easiest way out.

Mel Russo of Yoga High on the LES had a similar experience.

Misinformed auditors have tricked some businesses into purchasing Worker’s Comp. But “you do not need to carry insurance for ICs…however you do need to make sure that your ICs are in fact ICs,” West said. “But even if your teachers are employees, it doesn’t make a difference.”

It’s been found that yoga teachers with employee status still function like ICs anyway.

Auditors speak with teachers directly, so business owners must make sure they are on the same page as them. Most teachers think that this is something they don’t have to worry about, that it only concerns the studio owners. “They think it’s ‘our problem,’” said Zhana Galjasevic of The Yoga Room in Astoria. “But they don’t understand that studios are going to close and everyone will be affected.”

Flannery Foster of Brooklyn’s goodyoga wondered about the ratio of business owners versus teachers in the room. Hands were raised and business owners were in the majority. “It’s shocking that not enough teachers are involved,” Foster said.

Which raised the biggest issue: community support.

Yoga for New York is working hard, “but we need a good and strong membership base that shows up for meetings…we need to make this more than just an ad hoc organization for emergencies,” West said.

“Back when I started teaching yoga in 1970, people didn’t know the difference between yoga and yogurt,” added Sat Jivan Singh of Kundalini Yoga East . “But now there are enough yoga centers out there that we could all have a lot of power…we need to get in front of this before the tide comes.”

West agreed and said that “all over the US, States are going through the same thing.” She suggested that the NY community look to Yoga Alliance for putting everyone in touch. Moving forward, Yoga for New York hopes to build committees to delegate work and reach out to the entire country.

“Corporate entities change the nature of yoga, and we need to work strongly to support individual studios and businesses,” West said.

Thanks to the live webinar, a Westchester business owner was able to ask a question, submitted via computer. West read: “is there anything I should continue to do, or should I just sit tight until Mike’s case proceeds?”

“Sit tight,” West said.

Yoga for New York plans to reconvene in early December.

-- Michael Laskaris

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