Yoga Businesses and the Unpaid Internship

In the business of yoga, it is not uncommon for people to do ridiculously low-paid work.  Perhaps even more prevalent is the work-study or “karma yoga” student who works for free.  As yoga businesses strive to get more competitive (some actually writing business plans gasp!), we’re seeing an emergence of some new trends such as the yoga talent management agency and the unpaid intern.

With the economy as it is and the job outlook abysmal, many job seekers and employers are engaging in unpaid internship arrangements.

A great way to keep the overhead low, right?
A great way to gain real-world experience, right?

Tipped off by a recent NY Times article on the subject, we followed a link to the United States Department of Labor where we found a very interesting article on what constitutes a legal unpaid internship.

From the Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet #71:

The Test For Unpaid Interns
There are some circumstances under which individuals who participate in “for-profit” private sector internships or training programs may do so without compensation.  The Supreme Court has held that the term “suffer or permit to work” cannot be interpreted so as to make a person whose work serves only his or her own interest an employee of another who provides aid or instruction.  This may apply to interns who receive training for their own educational benefit if the training meets certain criteria.  The determination of whether an internship or training program meets this exclusion depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of each such program.

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:
1.  The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
2.  The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3.  The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4.  The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5.  The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6.  The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern.  This exclusion from the definition of employment is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of “employ” is very broad.  Some of the most commonly discussed factors for “for-profit” private sector internship programs are considered below.

To sum it up, unpaid internships are meant to be learning experience for the intern.  So much so, that sometimes their presence actually impedes work at times.  It is an educational experience where the intern is the primary beneficiary with loads of supervision.

Why is all that important to point out?  Because unrealistic yoga business plans are about as abundant as unpaid interns and downward facing dogs.  Case in point?  The Greenpoint, Brooklyn / Albany, California-based YAMA (Yoga Artists Talent Agency) Talent agency co-owned by Ava Taylor and Chris Cuevas strives to make yoga teachers a living.  Well+Good NYC writes:  “Like others who teach for a living, yoga instructors should have good health insurance and should be able to send their kids to college.”  Through a combined force of strategy development, touring, media, social marketing, public relations, legal help, sponsorships, and creative styling for teachers such as Sadie Nardini, Duncan Wong, Annie Carpenter, and Schuyler Grant, YAMA aims to do just that.  The problem?  When YAMA plans to utilize the talents of an unpaid intern to do the work.

Posted on Craigslist.org 4/9/2010 (we’ve noted the questionable stuff):

Who we’re looking for:
-Knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite, Google documents, and the Internet (FB, Twitter, You Tube) required.

-The chosen intern will be innovative, committed and will be part of the creation of a company that is revolutionizing the yoga, health and wellness industry.

-You’ll work a minimum of 15 hours, commit to a 3 month contract starting May 12th, and, of course, join us for complimentary yoga twice a week.

What you’ll be doing:
-Client Relations: Day to day liason and interface with YAMA clients. Maintaining and ensuring current client files (schedules, assessments, development tracks).

-Public Relations:
Approaching traditional print media publications/outlets gaining press coverage for YAMA clients and YAMA. Assist in the creation of media pitches, press releases, story lines, media plans, media lists.

-Social Media:
Researching social media opportunities for YAMA clients and YAMA.
Maintaining YAMA Clients/YAMA online presence on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and various blogs. Creative use of the internet to promote our clients.

-Brand Integration:
Approaching various brand alignment opportunities seeking sponsorships, endorsements and advertisement related opportunities for YAMA clients. Day to day liason with top brands in the wellness and lifestyle industry.

-Booking/Touring services:
Creating individualized travel itineraries, negotiating and booking appearances for YAMA clients. Cultivating relationships with venues (studios, retreat facilities, etc.). Maintaining booking checklist.

-Research:
Compiling a database of opportunities related to yoga, health and wellness around the world. Daily upkeep of all yoga, health and wellness related publications.

Whew!  That is one busy intern.

We at Elephantbeans are all for creative business ideas and promoting a living wage for yoga teachers and yoga-related employees.  We also stand for walking the talk.  Enough of people getting used and abused.  Enough with sleazy studio owners and unjust business practices.  Enough with lousy teacher pay and no job stability.  Enough with staying silent with being unpaid, underpaid, underemployed or overused.  Enough with yoga businesses staying under the radar with issues like this.  At the risk of being unpopular, here it is:  this is NOT okay.

-Elephantbeans

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6 responses to “Yoga Businesses and the Unpaid Internship

  1. Amen!

    By the way, calling themselves YAMA is such a statement, they should at least make an effort to live up to it.

  2. Thank you for this. 100% spot on. NOT okay.

  3. It would not be half bad, but the person taking the unpaid internship in this economy, possibly could not get a job (I do not think the independently wealthy nor the “funemployed” are attracted to such work) and NEEDS GOOD RESUME FODDER! This would not be it.

  4. Amen brother. I reposted on my Facebook page. The yoga scene seems to be getting more sleazy by the day. Great job in exposing this! Two lousy yoga classes a week. They have got to be kidding….but then again maybe it’s just a spoof!

  5. Completely agree. Thanks for the article.

  6. I couldn’t agree with you more. It is painstaking to know that interns are sometimes abused.

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