City Fitness is growing. But here‘s why it‘s cutting instructors

Three years ago, City Fitness had two locations and 60 employees.

Now, the Philadelphia-based gym is gearing up to open its sixth location in what might be its flashiest outpost yet — — and aims to employ 200 by the end of the year.

But it’s also cutting its exercise instructor staff by more than half, as it leaves behind the independent-contractor model and moves to hire teachers as part-time employees.

The move shows one of the hardships of expansion for the gym, which has . Teachers are disappointed, especially those who have worked for City Fitness for years and don’t fit the new business model — as are students, who say that it’s the teachers who make or break a class.

But City Fitness says the old model is no longer sustainable as it continues to grow.

“We’re not a tiny little storefront,” said vice president of marketing Tom Wingert, who acknowledged this decision has “ruffled feathers” but said it would serve members in the long run.

There was a lot of variation among City Fitness’ 150 instructors. Some taught one class a month, while others taught a few a week. The new model aims to create more consistency, with roughly 40 instructors required to teach at least 10 classes a month.

The part-time-employee model will let City Fitness to create more standards, Wingert said, like setting guidelines about when a teacher should show up for his or her class and how a teacher should introduce the class. That was something the gym couldn’t do under the independent contractor model, because companies are not legally allowed to exert that kind of control or direction over contractors. (Some do, however, and the issue of “misclassification” is being  because of gig economy employers like Uber and Lyft.)

Another major struggle was when instructors would call out at the last minute.

When students would show up for a class only to find that the instructor had called out and there was no substitute, “members rip us for that,” Wingert said.

City Fitness has 14,500 members and says it will grow by 3,000 by the end of the year. Might this change hurt the gym’s membership?

Wingert said he knew that some members, those who are faithful to certain classes and teachers, were upset. There are classes that only occur once a month that are always sold out. They will continue, he said, though they will likely be taught by different teachers come fall. And, he added, City Fitness was confident in the caliber of the teachers it planned to hire.

And maybe there’s also a lesson in delivery of bad news.

“It seems like my years of labor and loyalty to this gym are being rewarded with a glib, impersonal reply of ‘In order to improve and maintain the overall quality of the program, we must set participation minimums for instructors,'” wrote spinning instructor Timaree Schmit in an email to City Fitness leadership and her fellow teachers. Schmit isn’t able to teach 10 classes a month, so she won’t be working with the gym for much longer.

Schmit said the gym’s written messaging to teachers regarding the new policies lacked any explanations as to why the changes were being made.

Wingert said City held two meetings to explain the changes. But since it was a meeting for a group of independent contractors, it was difficult to get everyone there.

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