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The Exploitation of Massage Therapists

Ever since my last post about Massage Envy being sold to a giant conglomerate, I’ve been sent dozens of links to message boards and discussions about ME, and many of them contain references to other work places and situations as well. The horror stories outweigh the good by about twenty to one.

There are a lot of places where massage therapists are expected to do back to back massages all day…one woman commented that she was not entitled any break at all until she had done a full 8 hours of massage. That’s not a break; that’s time to go home. Others stated that they are expected to take no more than ten minutes in between clients. By the time you change the sheets, wash your hands and use the bathroom, ten minutes is gone. No time to just breathe for a moment.

I’ve always received a lot of complaints from people who are classified as independent contractors but treated as if they are employees…expected to hang around for no pay if they don’t have clients, on the chance that someone might walk in the door wanting a massage. And expected to do laundry, desk duty, work health fair events on behalf of the business, scrub the bathrooms and whatever else the establishment owner comes up with, all without compensation.

Then there’s the compensation itself. Most of the messages about Massage Envy state that their starting pay is $15 an hour plus tips. However, don’t get the idea that they’re the only guilty party. One therapist on my FB page stated that her local hospital was hiring therapists and paying them $12 an hour. A local chiropractor in my town tried to hire away one of my staff members and offered her 9.00 an hour. After she recovered from a fit of hysterical laughter and informed him she makes $42 an hour, she said he almost had a heart attack from the mere thought of a massage therapist being paid that much. Another woman on a message board stated that an upscale day spa in Atlanta offered her $10 an hour, and was told upfront that she would be expected to do between 30-40 massages per week.  And this is a place where a 50-minute massage is $90! I just heard from a therapist yesterday who does massage in a chiropractic office. Although she was offered $25 an hour, she is expected to wait until the insurance money arrives in order to get paid. Since I file a lot of insurance myself, I can vouch for the fact that sometimes takes 6-8 weeks. She’s been there for a month and hasn’t seen one red cent yet. And is expected to be on the premises all day (at no pay) whether she has clients or not. READ MORE...

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Comment by Laura Allen on November 18, 2012 at 7:35am

Maryshka, I employ a chiropractor in my office. We belong to a network that about 98% of the chiropractors in our state belong to, and all of the insurance companies we deal with set their own rates that they will pay for massage. That varies from state to state, and in fact, sometimes from zip code to zip code. BCBS for example, pays 62.96 for one hour here. I really can't speak to anyone billing $300 an hour for massage because I am unaware of anywhere where that is the acceptable fee.

Comment by Maryshka on November 16, 2012 at 8:30am

Can someone explain the $240-$300 per hour massage rate that chiropractors charge (insurance) vs. the cash rate of, for example, $60-$80 per hour massage rate? I had similar experiences prior to becoming a massage therapist after a MVA. Not sure I know the "why" for the discrepancy.

Comment by Laura Allen on October 28, 2012 at 8:45am

I have the same privilege of ranting here as every one else does, and I will continue to exercise that right. I'm not here to please anyone or to win a popularity contest. People are free to agree or disagree and express that as they feel led to do. I do a lot of research for my blogs, and my rants are generally backed up with cold hard facts, along with a healthy dose of my opinion. They aren't mindless any more than your opinion is mindless.

I have been an employer for almost 35 years, first in the restaurant business, and then in massage. I have been very blessed in my massage business with my staff members, who are indeed very well compensated. I could keep more of that money for myself, instead of paying as well as I do, but I like for my people to know I value them and that they are the reason my business is successful. I am merely the ringleader. In the past nine years of running my clinic and employing about a dozen people, I have never had anyone just fail to show up for work, or quit without a notice, or steal clients. I rarely have any turnover. I did fire one person early on, and have never had to do it again.

There are good employers and bad employers. I have in the past defended Massage Envy in print at least 25 times, probably twice that, and I have also fairly stated that employee satisfaction there seems to depend largely on the behavior and business ethics of the owner of the individual franchise.

Comment by Relax & Rejuvenate on October 27, 2012 at 2:51pm

Being a massage therapist has nothing to do with anything. One does not have to be a massage therapist to know how to schedule people that optimizes the resources -- revenue, staff and clients.

Not all massage therapists care. Some got in the business because they believed the massage school line about be your own, boss, make $80 an hour, often peddled by other MTs and then were sorely disappointed by reality

Or then there are those who just plain fail to show up for work several days in a row and don't give any warning that this might be the case and are not the least bit apologetic for leaving you with a whole schedule of appointments you have to turn away.

Or maybe the ones that care are those who decide to walk off the job because you won't give them tomorrow  off -- the clients be damned -- because their old friend came to town and has tickets to burning man. Oh, wait, those are people who care -- ONLY ABOUT THEMSELVES


Or those that care so much they stick their uninformed noses into other people's business, like the MT we fired yesterday who took it upon herself to tell our newly hired Esthetician she was not allowed to perform make up applicatioins or facials without a license, who then referred her to the local massage school placement department who confirmed this. Except both of these caring Massage people were dead wrong -- no license i required for Make up, and we had submitted a Temp Permit for her as an Esty -- but that did not prevent the Esty from losing all confidence in herself and went home in tears  -- causing an afternoon of appointments to be turned away -- because some caring MT decided she knew best, and the business owners did not know what they were doing and were going to exploit this unlicensed waif.


My point is, for every employer horror story, there are 10 employee horror stories of unprofessional, selfish and uncaring acts that boggle the mind. The math is simple -- one employee has the same horror story told by 10 employees, but even good employers always have an employee horror story to tell, and with more employees than employers, it adds up.


People wonder why employers are "greedy" taking more than 50% of the GROSS revenue -- a fair amount of that ends up having to cover comps and discounts for the horrible employees and the fact that life happens to the good employees.

Comment by Gordon J. Wallis on October 26, 2012 at 4:10pm

Hmm  thirty years ago I dont think I knew any massage therapist working for ten bucks an hour? Hmm,, Times have changed I guess.... Oh well...  Im not going to comment on this subject anymore. 

Comment by Gordon J. Wallis on October 26, 2012 at 1:47pm

 I'm not against employers..Thirty years Ive worked for other people. Good people.. Good employers that were not greedy and paid a fair wage. they valued me and didn't want me to leave..  The lowest I ever got paid was 40 an hour. I bought a house on Maui working for other people. You are obviously not a massage therapist....Id like to set you up with seven one hour massages in a row for $10 a massage.  lol. You wouldn't last a week .....Oh, one of them will be a 250lb male that will want you to push harder.   Its easy for one to talk of bulls. But being in the bull ring is different. But I know thats not your problem..  People choose because they really have to eat. .Massage therapists are the some of the most loving people Ive ever met..They care..Some employers don't...Its F-ing abuse.   Everyone Ive worked with paid me way way more then ten bucks an hour...What a rip off.   

Comment by Relax & Rejuvenate on October 26, 2012 at 11:47am

A good therapist deserves to get paid whatever the next best therapist is willing to accept.

You can wish and want and hope all you want, but that is the reality.


Why are you bashing the employers, instead of bashing your fellow therapists for accepting these wages and ruining it for everyone else?


What Laura, or I, or a chiropractor or anyone else pays their therapists is there business. I don't pretend to tell them what they should pay, the marketplace tells them what to pay.


But I also would not tell an MT NOT to take a job at $9 or $15 or whatever. That may work for them. They may have paid $6,000 for their education -- that fact your friend paid $30K is NOT THEIR PROBLEM -- and should not dictate what wages they agree to work for. Just like what Laura's prices or costs or the Chiro's prices or costs are not my business and not my problem, but that dictates what they are able and willing to pay their staff.

What do you care what the chiro bills the insurance company? You make it sound like you would be entitled to you pay based on someone else's pay. Does a dental hygenist get a % of every cavity filled? If this were a common belief, then MTs shoudl charge their personal clients based on the client incomes, not on market rates for good massage in their cities. And I am not talking a sliding scale for the disadvantage, but $200 if you are a 1%, $125 if you are a 5% and so on. That is the same as expectign to get paid more because a Chiro makes more money off your massage than the YMCA does.

You work for what you are willing to accept. If you accept it, you are not being exploited.

It is hysteria, because no one is being co-erced to take these jobs or accept this pay. If no one took the jobs, they would have to raise their pay. But someone always seems to take these jobs. So someone feels sufficiently NOT EXPLOITED to work for $9, $15 or straight commission.

Comment by Gordon J. Wallis on October 22, 2012 at 3:24pm

Say uhm, Relax & Rejuvenate...Everything she said is true...Besides that..I have friends that have paid up to $30,000.00 for their massage education..They shouldn't be treated like a glorified slave after that.. Laura pays her employees well..Why can't others?  ...And Im sure she makes a profit...Maybe you don't rip anyone off...but a lot of employers do.   I've been working in this field for thirty years...Everything she says is true...No hysteria at all.  Its fact.  And I have no doubt that a local chiropractor tried to offer her massage therapist $9.00 and hour... lol    I know chiropractors that are billing insurance companies $300.00 an hour for massage done in their offices...Now maybe $15 and hour is good for a starters...But a good therapist deserves to make at least $35 to $40 an hour.....Considering most massages coast $70 to $100 and hour.  And insurance money even more.. way more.  Its not hysteria.  Its real.   

Comment by Relax & Rejuvenate on October 22, 2012 at 9:24am

More clueless hysteria from Laura.  No one is being exploited -- these are not illegal immigrants -- they are consenting adults who have received a high school education or more, just like you and I.


Dont like the terms of employment? Don't take the job. That simple.

Can't find a job? Fine, start your own business and see if you have what it takes to be a lazy, greedy business owner.


And how many of these exploitative businesses are run by practitioners? Most of them.


By all means, please start a massage therapists union and watch your profession go the way of all the other faltering collectivists that would rather lose their jobs than keep them.


But just stop the mindless, emotional anti-business rants.

Comment by Gordon J. Wallis on October 21, 2012 at 12:13pm

Thats the whole reason I'm on this site..  We have a high art.   It's not recognized by anyone. Medical professionals, Employers, the general public, as well as ourselves.   Truth remains hidden.  Why?

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