Devine Evans didn’t intentionally synchronize his strike with Labor Day, but when the holiday came four days after he walked out of his workplace, he celebrated in the only way that made sense: standing in his employer’s parking lot and exercising his right to organize.
Evans, a 22-year-old Durham native, has worked as a team member at Planet Fitness on Durham’s Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway since July. The job has been “pretty copacetic,” he says, except for a few glaring issues: the air conditioning breaks every few days, putting workers—and customers—at risk of overheating, and one employee, who Evans says has received seven accusations of sexual harassment, has yet to be disciplined or fired. In fact, Evans says, the alleged harasser was recently promoted to a shift leader position. (Planet Fitness did not respond to the INDY’s request for comment before press time, but sent us comments after publication included as an editor’s note at the bottom of this story.)
When Evans vocalized his concerns, management told him that his issues were “a problem for corporate” and took no further action, Evans says.
So on September 1, with the temperature in the gym pushing 84 degrees and no end to the harassment in sight, Evans decided to do something that would get the attention of corporate leadership.
He and one other worker walked out in the middle of their shifts and staged a small protest, then teamed up with labor rights organization Fight for $15 to craft a strike notice with a list of demands: functional air conditioning, an end to all sexual harassment, higher wages, and respect for their right to organize.
After eight other workers signed the notice, Evans sent it to the gym’s general manager, regional district manager, and corporate office, and on Labor Day, he led a protest outside Planet Fitness, rallying for employees’ demands and bearing a sign that read “WORKERS RUN THIS PLANET.”
Several days ago, after about a week on strike, Evans decided to return to work. Though none of the workers’ demands have been met, Evans says that it will be most productive to continue the fight within the walls of the workplace.
To help paint a picture for other workers who are looking to organize, the INDY spoke with Evans about his efforts in standing up to a massive corporation.
INDY WEEK: What was your approach to organizing?
Evans: I talked to several of my coworkers to see if they were interested in joining the fight, and one of my coworkers ended up walking out with me, hand by hand and foot by foot, because I let her know the power and the rights she has as a worker. We made our list of demands and we also made a petition to show corporate that people are really standing up and that things need to be changed.
[When we sent in our strike notice], Planet Fitness took us off the schedule, which is illegal. So that turned into one of our biggest demands: you have to respect our right to organize. I went to my fellow coworkers, and my fellow workers in general, and said, “Hey, you may work at McDonald’s, you may work at Wendy’s, but your fellow workers are going on strike. Can you come and support us here at Planet Fitness? Can you stand in solidarity with us to help get this big corporation’s attention, for better work conditions?” And they did, on Labor Day.
How did it feel to be outside protesting?
I’ve been to other people’s rallies and protests, but to actually be leading it at my store for my fellow workers—it felt exhilarating. It felt amazing. It felt like something that I was born to do. We hit four different stores in one day: Planet Fitness, McDonald’s, Zaxby’s, and Wendy’s. These are issues that workers at all corporations deal with.
Has management taken any action in response to your demands?
The air conditioner has not been turned back on, and like I said, the employee that has seven accusations of sexual harassment has been promoted. But I have confidence that [our demands] will be met, because I’m a person that doesn’t give up. Someone from corporate let us know that we’ll be receiving back pay for the days that we’ve missed, so we’re definitely seeing the change already.
What made you decide to return to work?
Well, I was put back on the schedule, so I was allowed to return to work. But I really just want to get back in there and keep organizing with my coworkers. I want to keep fighting for these demands.
I assumed that it would feel daunting to demand action from a giant corporation like Planet Fitness, but from the way you’re putting it, it sounds like the size of the company makes your efforts feel more empowering because there are more people that you can help. Is that accurate?
Definitely. The demands are for the company at large. That’s why I want to dig deeper; I want to go to different Planet Fitness locations and talk to my fellow workers and see what some of the issues are that they’re facing, so we can make sure that the demands [represent] all of us.
Do you have any worries about returning to work after all of this?
No, not at all. One thing about me, I’m not afraid. I’m very brave, I’m very bold. I know my rights and I’m going to walk into work with my head held high, like I always do. Once I start something, I don’t leave until I feel like I’ve made a difference.
What advice would you give to other people who are facing issues in their workplace and want to take action?
Gather every type of strength and courage that you have. Talk to your coworkers and let them know their power. Get out here, stand up for yourself, and make a difference—it starts with you. Change the narrative, and be blessed.
Editor’s note: After INDY Week went to press this week, Planet Fitness spokesperson McCall Gosselin sent us the following message “in response to [our] article about the Durham location”:
- “We can confirm that the local franchise group has resolved the air conditioning issue, which was caused by neighboring construction, and gave employees the option to leave the premises if they felt the need to do so.”
- “Planet Fitness does not condone harassment of any kind. The local franchise group is looking into these allegations, and takes this matter seriously.”
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