Hitting the Bricks

By Ed Staskus

”There once was a union maid, she never was afraid, of goons and ginks and company finks, she went to the union hall when a meeting it was called, and when the Legion boys come ’round, she always stood her ground.”  Woody Guthrie

By mid-October last year, five weeks into the labor union strike against the car maker, General Motors was losing about $90 million a day and thousands of auto workers were losing their savings. Yet there was no end in sight for the longest bucket of bolts strife in many years. Nearly 50,000 workers were idled, picketing outside GM factories from coast to coast, squabbling about wages, retirement benefits, and the fate of a shuttered Chevrolet plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

At about the same time, teachers at New York City’s YogaWorks studios, a nationwide chain that advertises itself as “America’s #1 Yoga Studio,” asked the company to recognize a union. “It would appear to be the first in the United States to include yoga instructors,” according to The New York Times.

“Yoga teachers are poor,” said Abi Miller, feeling like the low man on the totem pole. He recently posted his feelings on the “Yoga” group Facebook page.

“This is a vibration that I lived for the first years of teaching yoga,” he said. “I did lots of free community events. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing those things, it prevented me from jumping towards my dream. It held me back because I was afraid to ask for the money that I was worth. It delayed my process of stepping into the teacher that I am meant to be. This industry is in full boom and makes a ton of money every year. If you are a teacher, why wouldn’t you be deserving of having a little piece of that pie?”

Although yoga is for everybody, everybody can’t always get to the front of the table for their bigger slice of the pie, but like Joe Hill, the songwriter and union organizer, pointed out, “Work and pray, live on hay, you’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”

“We believe yoga is for every body,” is the mantra of YogaWorks, fiddling with spelling and meaning.

“No matter your age or fitness level, we offer yoga that will work for you. Our programs remain authentic to ancient yoga tradition while seamlessly integrating today’s popular styles. Join us on the mat, we’re here to honor and empower your journey toward personal growth and well-being.”

Even though the request by their employees, who honor and empower the journeys of everybody who come to the studio, was polite, if firm, the response by the company was equally firm, if not exactly polite. It was stern, if not rabid, in the tradition of labor-management relations, which are almost always adversarial.

Unions and bosses have never exactly been baby blue meeting of the minds. They have spent most of their time since the Industrial Revolution poking one another in the peepers. When it’s gotten out of hand, which it often has, it’s ended up an eye-for-an-eye. Sometimes it gets ramped up to two eyes for an eye. It never gets damped down to turning the other cheek.

No one is that Christian Buddhist Muslim Jewish or God-fearing.

In the 1890s the Carnegie Steel Company went toe-to-toe against the nation’s strongest trade union, the Iron and Steel Workers. An 1889 strike had won them a three-year contract, but three years later Andrew Carnegie was determined to break them. The company locked the workers out of the plant and all of them were fired.

They stormed the factory and took over the company town. Three hundred Pinkerton guards, locked and loaded, were called in, but when they got there they were met by thousands of strikers, many of them locked and loaded, too. After a gun battle, the Pinkertons gave up and ran for it. In all, nine strikers and seven Pinkertons were killed. Eight thousand Pennsylvania National Guardsmen were called in and the strike was broken.

The Battle of Blair Mountain, near Welch, West Virginia, in 1921, was a spontaneous uprising of ten thousand coal miners who fought the company’s hired guns and their allies, the state police, for three days before federal troops intervened.

In 1987, while union members staged a fight as a distraction, others set fire to the Dupont Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico. The union was in a dispute with management about pay and health care. Ninety-seven people were killed, many of them burned beyond recognition.

In New York City, the battle between YogaWorks and their working people was more in the way of a war of words. It was about hitting the bricks, not throwing bricks. Non-violence stayed the course.

A YogaWorks official sent an e-mail addressed to their NYC teachers and trainers, painting the union as an untrustworthy group simply looking to collect dues from them, and on the look-out only for their own welfare.

The e-mail, from Heather Eary, a regional vice president, ended in all capital letters: “DON’T SIGN A CARD.” The capital letters referred to cards being circulated by teachers and by the union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, stating the signatory wanted the group to represent them.

“YogaWorks does not believe that employees joining, and paying dues to, a union is in the best interest of YogaWorks, our employees or our students,” the message said. “We are surprised that the machinist union would ask us to help them possibly take away your right to decide whether you want to go running to join them.”

There was something queer about the message, as though it needed to get into down dog on both feet and both hands, to get itself grounded in the gap between the company’s principles and appetite.

“Our offer to work in collaboration with the company still stands,” said David DiMaria, an organizer with the union. “Hopefully they will see past their original reaction.”

Carla Gatza, the head of human resources for YogaWorks, said, “we believe that our company, our employees, and our students are best served when YogaWorks and its employees work together without the interference of a third-party union.”

“They often say the yoga teachers are the center of this business,” Tamar Samir, embroiled in the unionization bid, said of the company’s leaders. “But then somehow the way that teachers are supported in terms of pay and benefits and job security doesn’t match that.”

That being said, YogaWorks promptly closed its SoHo center, throwing its employees out of work and students out on the chilly sidewalk.

A union is an association of workers, often in a trade or profession, formed to protect and further their interests and rights. They began forming in the mid-19th century in response to the social and economic impact of the Industrial Revolution. National unions bubbled up in the post-Civil War era as the coasts and sections were brought together by commerce and railroads.

Labor unions benefited greatly from the New Deal in the 1930s, especially after the Wagner Act passed to legally protect their right to organize. The number of workers belonging to unions peaked in the mid-50s at about 35% of the workforce and the total number of members peaked in the 70s at about 21 million. Membership has declined ever since. In 2013 there were 14 million members compared with 18 million in 1983. In 2013, the percentage of workers belonging to a union was 11%, compared to 20% in 1983.

There are more than 50 thousand yoga teachers in the United States, and according to the Yoga Alliance there are two people interested in becoming a teacher for every current teacher on the classroom floor. At that rate, should they succeed in signing up the proletariat of yogis, the Machinists and Aerospace Workers will soon be the biggest union in the country.

Or maybe not

Do I think that yoga teachers deserve more job security and better pay? Yes,” says J. Brown of J. Brown Yoga. “Are there a lot of yoga center owners who are participating in a business model that exploits teachers? Yes. Does the Yoga Alliance 200-hour teacher training standard bear a lot of responsibility for creating this model and fueling more people to follow it? Yes.”

He didn’t stop there.

“Do I think that 100 teachers in NYC becoming part of the union, so they can attempt to negotiate the terms of their employment with Yogaworks, will do anything to change the model across the industry and give teachers more job security and better pay? No.”

There are about six thousand yoga centers nationwide. Twenty years ago, all of them were mom and pop places, independents, riding the wellness gravy train. In the past ten years venture capital has gotten its tentacles into the practice, for good reason.

There are 36 million pairs of active feet on mats nowadays, according to Yoga Journal. The number of people doing yoga grew by 50% in the past five years. Sun salutations are now as popular as swinging a golf club, without even having to go outside and get a sunburn. Popularity polls show that 15% of everybody has done yoga in the past year.

J. Brown sees “bottom line economics infecting the entire landscape of yoga centers. That is why yoga teachers have come to be paid so little and treated so poorly by both the corporate and independent operators.”

The median income in the United States is about $32,000. Median pay at GM is about $40,000. Roughly speaking, the average hourly pay for a member of the United Auto Workers ranges from $28 to $38 for those hired before September 2007, and between $16 and $20 for workers hired afterward. In 2015 yoga teaching was rated as one of the top one hundred jobs in the country, according to CNN, with a median annual paycheck clocking in at more than $60 big ones.

The compensation at YogaWorks ranges from about $35 to $100-or-more to teach classes of an hour’s length, occasionally an hour-and-a-half. The average teacher, teaching an average of 25 classes a week, working about 30 hours a week, at an average rate of pay of $50.00 a class, will make their $60 thousand-or-more a year without breaking a sweat, unless it’s a hot flow class.

One of the complaints made by yoga teachers about their jobs is the extracurricular time they have to spend cleaning the yoga rooms after class, even though the rooms are simply empty spaces with wood floors that usually just require mopping up some sweat and sweeping up some dust balls.

The pay for hotel maids ranges between $9.00 to $13.00 an hour across the country. The pay range hardly varies, suggesting there aren’t many opportunities for increased pay or advancement, even with several years of experience. The average cleaner, working 40 hours a week, vacuuming making beds disinfecting hotel rooms, makes approximately $21,000 a year, a third of what the average yoga teacher makes.

But it’s not just cleaning up after class. There’s more to it than that in the teaching racket. Hotel maids may have to mess with some messy stuff in the rooms they clean, but they don’t have to fiddle with their iPods. Yoga teachers do.

“We’re constantly having to change our playlist, constantly having to sequence, testing it out,” Melissa Brennan of CorePower Yoga said. “The expectation is go out and do all of this work and then come back and bring it back to the studio.”

The work on their digital record players is not compensated and has led to resentment, notwithstanding that teachers make about twice what the average Joe and Jane do. On the other hand, resentment is not morally superior to making money, so you might as well make as much of it as you can when you can.

Melissa and Effie Morgenstern are suing CorePower. They claim the company has failed “to pay its instructors for certain hours worked, causing their average weekly compensation to drop below the minimum wages they are entitled.”

“They hide behind the fact that you have all this gratitude and love and appreciation for yoga and your peers,” said Effie.

“In a lot of ways, they weaponize relationships,” Melissa said. “I know there is a part of me that feels really foolish for buying into that and thinking that these people did care about me.”

The suit is the fourth action with similar complaints filed against CorePower. Almost two thousand other yoga instructors have joined a class action lawsuit, claiming they are “overstretched and not being paid the minimum wages they are entitled to.”

In a statement, CorePower Yoga said the lawsuit brought by Brennan and Morgenstern is without merit and maintains there was no wrongdoing. “CorePower is proud of its practices, believes they are fair, and will continue to stand by and defend them.”

When yoga went commercial it went capitalist. Yoga is cool beans, but cool capitalism is still capitalism, no matter how many times headquarters quotes BKS Iyengar Seane Corn Leslie Kaminoff or anybody else. They might as well cut to the chase and get right to Sadie Nardini, the bright shining guiding light of yoga commercialism.

The debate about traditional vs. modern in the world of yoga is over. It’s been bushwhacked. The answer is free market capitalism. It’s about selling and winning and making money. It’s not for the faint of heart. After all, you can go broke in the yoga game, like anywhere else.

“Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell,” says Frank Borman, businessman and ex-NASA astronaut.

Yoga is progressive open-minded socially conscious, except when it isn’t, when it comes to collective bargaining. Then it’s status quo push back time. “The dynamic of unions doesn’t reflect who we are, how we interact, how we make decisions or where we need to go,” is what automaker corporations and venture capital yogis all say when push comes to shove. It’s my way or the highway.

There are only so many pieces of the pie.

Yoga literally means union. Yoga yoke union. It can be understood on different levels, philosophically, religiously, and psychologically, no longer living at cross-purposes with yourself. It can simply mean going to yoga class, getting in step with like-minded folks. It might soon mean a first sighting thunderbolt, yoga teachers walking the picket line, fending off glib-talking union-busting ginks and finks.

Meanwhile, Andrew Carnegie is laughing hysterically, wherever he is, while new-age union bosses are getting with the new dynamic, and Krishnamacharya and his antecedents are rolling up out of corpse pose with surprised looks, all shook up at the ruckus.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Lights Out at the Lighthouse

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By Ed Staskus

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘till it’s gone.”  Joni Mitchell

Starting early in April, lights start coming back on in stores inns restaurants and businesses of all kinds on the Outer Cape. Hiring ramps up for cooks, waiters, waitresses, cashiers, retail associates, merchandisers, front desk agents, landscaping, cleaning services, and even at local airports parking and fueling aircraft.

Even though snowfall is uncommon on Cape Cod, whatever there is of it melts as the weather suddenly gets warmer. Purple-blue hyacinths and bright yellow daffodils start to open. In Wellfleet, where almost everything closes down for the winter, almost everything opens up again in the spring.

Except when it doesn’t.

Early in April Joe Wanco and his family, wife Laura and daughters Michelle and Jodie, made it known that their iconic Lighthouse Restaurant in a mid-19th century building in the middle of town on Main Street would not be opening for the season spring summer and fall.

“After many years, many employees, many building renovations, many blueberry muffins, pints of beer, and Boston sports championships, it has been decided it is in the best interest of the family that we no longer operate as a business. This is not a decision made overnight or without extensive consideration. Forty years is a long time and even longer in restaurant years.”

“Oh, man, this is sad,” said Molly MacGregor.

“This is worse than closing down Town Hall,” said Steve Curley.

“I want to scream, NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” screamed Heidi Gertsen-Scheck.

Forty years in the dining room trade is like four hundred in dog years. It’s a challenge. If you like falling pushing jumping off the deep end, watering holes are for you.

Even if your menu is coherent and priced appropriately, and the tables are set nice and neat, and the ambience is what your customers like, if the customer service goes sour, customers will remember. Even if management is on top of orders, sales goals, and labor costs, if they don’t notice nobody is asking for slimehead fillets, and don’t take it off the menu, they’re stuck with a freezer full of slimehead. Even if the grub is outstanding, the staff trained and ready to go, if you’re slow marketing your restaurant, you end up with a half-empty restaurant.

“You’ve had a great run,” said Jim Clarke, who owned the Lighthouse from 1968 to 1978. “I still have memories and nightmares from those years. I wish I had a nickel for all the muffins I made.”

The Lighthouse was a local seafood eatery, with arguably the best oyster stew between Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, a local sports bar and grill where the Patriots Red Sox Celtics ruled the roost on the flat screens, and a local dive bar with two dollar cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Cape Cod bands livening up the joint year after year.

“Main Street won’t be the same,” said Donna Adams McCaffery.

“You guys have been a bedrock of this community,” said Sam Greene.

“We started almost every vacation in Wellfleet at the Lighthouse, starting in 1989 when my now husband met my family there for our vacation-starting breakfast,” said Laura Kaspar Wardwell.

Six American presidents came and went, while another has been out to lunch, in the time since the Wanco’s landed on Main Street. Townspeople and tourists grew up with the Lighthouse. Some were born and had to find out for themselves.

“I grew up with stories about the Lighthouse before I even knew what it was,” said Amy St. John Ramsdell.

“Our five children grew up having breakfast at the Lighthouse every Sunday after mass,” said Jodi Lyn Deitsch-Malcynsky. “Your family was always inviting and gracious and fun! Our summers in Wellfleet will be forever changed.”

“I remember parking my bicycle out front and coming in for a Cherry Coke or hot chocolate,” said Matt Frazier, years before he became their trash hauler and recycler. “An extra special thank-you for always treating our crew with snacks and beverages during and after Oyster Festival.”

The menu wasn’t the biggest buffet catalogue in the world, and the prices weren’t an arm and a leg, even though the plates were chock-full, but the always hot food was more than good, often very good.

“The best scallops in the world, as good as Digby, Nova Scotia,” said a man from Boston. “What’s more to say?”

“I can’t say enough about the Cod Ruben,” said a man from Westfield. “They have a great selection of beer. The service is awesome.”

“They happened to have lobster dinners on a special, super fresh and tender,” said a woman from Worthington. “They were the best lobster dinners we had all summer.”

The Lighthouse was the only restaurant on the Outer Cape without a front door, two side doors, and plenty of windows to sit at and watch the world go by. “Here’s to missing the big picture,” one man said to another, sitting at the bar one September morning, over hearty breakfasts and Bloody Mary’s, their backs to the window. The bar sat about a dozen and the front room and side room tables sat forty or fifty. The floors are hardwood. There is a large skylight in the beamed tilted ceiling of the side dining room. It isn’t a small place, but it isn’t a big place, either.  It was always lively and got even more lively at night.

“When I was younger it was our breakfast place,” said John Denninger. “As I grew older it was my place to get a drink. When I decided to move here you made it feel like home. I could not have found a better place to hang out.”

A red and white replica of the red and white Nauset lighthouse sits straight and true on the flat roof of the front room. “The lighthouse does great service, yet it is the slave of those who trim the lamps,” observed the writer Alice Rollins. It doesn’t go looking for passing ships in the night. It just stands there with the big bright light on. Lighthouses are always lighthouses in somebody’s storm.

The Wanco’s came from northern New Jersey in the late 1970s. They partnered with a friend of theirs in the restaurant “to have their hand at a small business in a seaside town in an expression of their own American dream.”  Their partner retired ten years ago, but the Wanco’s kept the lights on, carrying on. “It left just our family to provide a watering hole, meeting place, warm meal, cold beer, loud music, local gossip, friendly banter, and a smiling face.”

Besides everything else, who wants to lose a smiling face?

“Ah, Jaysus,” said Jenifer Good. “It’s too much!”

Owning and operating a restaurant isn’t the same as going to work. It’s more like work. Many people start work by checking their e-mails. So do many restaurateurs. Many people check their e-mails all day. Most restaurateurs don’t. They don’t have time. There are too many other things to do.

After they’ve turned on the lights and checked their mail in the morning they do a walk-through of the restaurant, note what needs to be cleaned repaired replaced, start receiving orders, start food production, say hello to arriving cooks and staff, last minute scrambles because someone is sick hungover missing, breakfast service, take a break, lunch pre-shift, lunch service, move on to more food production, staff meal, dinner pre-shift, dinner service, clean up, wipe down, go over the day’s receipts, stay on top of staffing for tomorrow, and fit in balancing the checkbook, making payroll, checking inventory against reality, making a list of purveyors to talk to, and finally, turning off the lights.

All of this without swearing overly much at staff customers passersby loved ones.

Not that working at the Lighthouse wasn’t a happening, an exploit. “Working there was always an adventure,” said John Dwyer.

“My first waitressing job 40 years ago,” said Gina Menza. “I was terrible, but you kept me on. Some crazy memories living upstairs, sitting on the roof to watch the parade, and sneaking into the drive-in rolled up in a carpet in the back of the van.”

“Living in the upstairs apartment to working at the Lighthouse for my first job, smashing my head into the tables while running from the kitchen to the dining room, creamy dill salad and the best pickles on the planet, working down in the bakery, and years later to many post-shift beers,“ said Jacqueline Stagg.

“My most fun job,” said Kelly Moore. “Endless pre-games and endgames, situations, life lessons with Pill Bill, meltdowns, bike stealings and returnings, hurricane parties, skinny dipping team meetings, Wall of Shame, family breakfasts, jam sessions, chats with Thomas, high society, beer pong tournaments, roof top nights, off-season regulars, Mexican meltdowns with Slammo, and mista sista kissa.”

Communities are built around their city halls, schools, and businesses. Even though the Outer Cape is known for its guidebook attractions, sun and sand whale watching galleries seafood summer theater, Provincetown, the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and the National Seashore, its essence is in its smaller neighborhoods and places.

“They were the center beacon of our town,” said Chris Eize of the Sacred Mounds. “When we became the house band, we became part of the Lighthouse.”

Most bands that ever played at the Lighthouse played in a place where the music making was consistently better than it should have sounded, resonating better than the written notes, and from Funktapuss to the Sacred Mounds they always lit up the venue.

“The Super Scenics always had a blast playing there with our gracious hosts the Mounds and the Lighthouse” said Jeff Jahnke, “Thanks and cheers!”

“We got to know Michelle and Jodie on an intimate level of trust, honest communication, and friendship,” said Chris, the frontman of the Mounds. “I loved how Jodie didn’t really have a filter, and you knew exactly what she was thinking, because she would tell you, whether you liked it or not. We enjoyed the after-show drinks and reflections with Michelle, and that openness will live on with appreciation and fondness.”

There is always a lot of camaraderie in restaurants, everyone working closely together, all around the chuck wagon.

“The restaurant business, even in the most stable of markets is, frankly, exhausting,” said Joe Wanco. “It’s an ever-consuming extra member of the family. There are no restful nights, even with the help of your favorite tequila.”

It is a consuming undertaking because of the long hours and hard work, most of it on your feet, and the competition inherent in the undertaking. The restaurant business is massive, with more than one million restaurants coast to coast. The chances of making it even one year are slim. Most eateries close in their first twelve months. Three of four close in the next three to five years. Making it four decades is Bunyanesque.

“The Wanco family put their heart and soul into their work,” said Chris Eize. Staying the course means staying steadfast. “Wow, 40 years, that’s awesome,” said Katie Edmond.

“You and your oyster stew are going to be greatly missed,” said Rob Cushing.

“Joe and Laura, enjoy your well-deserved retirement,” said Virginia Paine Davis. “You have served the town well.”

It works both ways, coming and going, since Main Street in Wellfleet is not a one-way street.

“We are eternally grateful for the many years of support from our loyal clientele, especially our year-round community,” said the Wanco family, signing off.

“Good luck, cuz,” said Joyce Buccino Fabiano to the leave-taking.

“We sure are going to miss you all,” said Mike Deltano.

“But how will I ever find my children now when I get to Wellfleet?” asked Judy Sherlock. “Look for them at the library?”

The Wanco’s were the Lighthouse keepers for a long time. The lights of our favorite places go on and off over time. Every now and then they need a new minder. What Main Street needs now is a new barkeep to fire up the lanterns again at the local public house, like the Garden State transplants did forty-some enterprising years ago.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”