A union for massage therapists?


Janet Weiser, a member of Working America’s Massage Advocacy Project, works at the Hawthorne Street Fair to raise awareness of the campaign.
Janet Weiser, a member of Working America’s Massage Advocacy Project, works at the Hawthorne Street Fair to raise awareness of the campaign.

Janet Weiser may never have a union. But with the help of Working America, she and fellow licensed massage therapists (LMT) in Oregon are trying out the union principle — organizing and working collectively to improve industry standards.

Working America is the AFL-CIO’s outreach organization for those who agree with the labor movement’s economic justice agenda but don’t have a union in their workplace. Nearly a year ago, its organizers started the campaign with a mailing and survey sent to all Oregon LMTs.

“There are no standards for the industry at all,” says Aneta Molenda, Working America’s lead organizer in the campaign.

[pullquote]We want to open the eyes of the public, to let them know that of the $120 you pay at the high-end spa, your massage therapist is only getting $25 of it.” — LMT Janet Weiser

[/pullquote]LMTs work as employees, as independent contractors, or for their own private practices, and do their work in spas, health clinics, chiropractors’ offices, or even homes. Most must cobble multiple gigs together to make ends meet, including jobs outside their profession. Weiser, for instance, moonlights as an Uber driver, though she’s been an LMTfor five years.

LMT earnings vary widely, from as high as $100 an hour to as low as minimum wage. The self-employed, and those working the health care side of the profession — earn the most. Earning the least are those who provide massages at big corporate franchise operations like Massage Envy, Elements, and Hand & Stone. Customers there might pay $50, and only $16 of that goes to the person providing the service. And to get there, that LMT might have spent 500 hours — and $5,000 to $15,000 — in massage school.

Even on the medical side, where an insurer might pay $45 per 15-minute unit of massage, a clinic might pay the practitioner just 40 percent of that rate.

It’s also an overwhelmingly female profession: 82 percent of Oregon’s 6,790 active licensed massage therapists are women. And it’s incredibly hard work, taking a toll on bodies: 16  “massage hours” a week is considered full time, and 25 is the outer limit of what’s possible.

To raise public awareness about conditions in their profession — and eventually shed light on good and bad players in the industry — Weiser and other LMTs formed the Massage Advocacy Project (MAP).


Know a licensed massage therapist? Go to a licensed massage therapist? Tell them about the Massage Advocacy Project. And be sure to “like” the project on Facebook.

“We want to open the eyes of the public,”Weiser said, “to let them know that of the $120 you pay at the high-end spa, your massage therapist is only getting $25 of it.”

So far, the campaign has contacted over 1,300 LMTs, and set up booths at four Portland street fairs. About 100 LMTs have signed on, and 20 to 30 attend monthly organizing meetings. Molenda says the group has already had its first success — getting one small operator to foreswear making use of a non-compete agreement that it made LMTs sign. And for Weiser and other LMTs, the group has also created community in what can be an isolating, mostly solo profession. The groundwork done, the campaign is preparing to officially launch Oct. 21.

    • Time:  Wednesday, Oct. 21. Registration starts at 2:30 p.m., and the program begins at 3 p.m.
    • Place:  721 NW 9th Ave, Portland.


  1. I think it is important to note that while those working for a corporate massage franchise may only make $16/hour, independent massage therapists do not ‘take home’ 100% of their hourly earnings. A $50 massage payment earned by an independent practitioner goes down significantly when you deduct the following: self employment taxes, space rent, business permits, utilities, linen service, scheduling service, supplies, business cards and the additional time required per appointment as there is no ‘front office’ support staff to initiate intake paperwork. Add into that the unpaid time an independent LMT uses for marketing, business social media, dropping off/picking up or self laundering linens, ordering supplies, billing insurance (not everyone makes $45/unit), making bank deposits, scheduling appointments-the list goes on-and you are looking at potentially less income than an employee of a corporate massage business.
    So, while the corporate employees complain, these are some of the reasons they are not self employed as it takes time and dedication. Also, there is zero paid vacation, discounted health insurance, sick days and workman’s compensation for those independently employed.

    • Amen! I work seven days a week as an owner and my employees make between $41-$55 an hour. I love them and spend a lot of time making sure they are ok. How could they ever have a decent place to work if we had LMT’s coming and gong taking all the clientele. I have spend 20 years developing my business. and the LMT”s i choose are paid well but no they are not going to make $75 an hour. They have zero overhead. They just have to come in an do great work with no risk or law suits. Its not their name its my name. I hire people who don’t want to have a business that don’t have time for my life. I have devoted my life to this business and you can’t expect to walk in somewhere and get paid $50 an hour without earning it. My LMT’s earn it. I buy them a massage a month, pay for lots of extras. When i am done in 14 years one or two of them can buy my business for a song and take it from there. I don’t want an advocacy group telling me exactly what to do. I go beyond in some areas and in other areas it may look like less (like non-compete). Those that work for me thank me everyday and tell me ” I love my job and I love you” about once a week. I must be doing something right. The advocacy group wants lmts to have their own business. Well many Doctors don’t have their own businesses as they are not business people they are health care providers that need to focus on helping people. You can’t just pay people 50% when they are employees. The costs I have are astronomical with insurance billing. We have to fight for that $40 a unit and sometimes we don’t get paid at all. Then what, do i take that out of the LMT’s. NEVER. I would not let them suffer. I take a loss. If you have never had employees its hard to understand, I have been at this for 2,5 years and its been the most time consuming thing I have ever done. I take care and love all the LMTs as I am an LMT and I really get it.

    • I don’t appreciate how business owners frequently forget to mention that the $50 dollars an hour is really based on the ideal that people will tip $25 dollars, even when they know that in all reality it is not common. this offsets the risk that is supposed to be the burden of the business owner. Also it is our name as therapists we are in the room not you. Besides that point I don’t appreciate giving practicals to unlicensed people to prove my worth. As if anything but being certified would qualify you. No matter how many times you go to the mechanic of that won’t qualify you to work on cars so why isn’t that the same standard for mt’s. I’m tired of franchise owners who love in different states reaping the benefits and 50cent annual raises.

    • However I have worked at ME, and Elements. Making a livable wage at theses places is hard, unless you do 8-7 massage a days and work 6days a week. I also have done the independent massage therapist business, and that too is just like you said, we LMTs don’t make a livable wage in either vain of the industry. LMTs need to work long hrs and in most corporate places there is no such thing as workman’s comp, or paid vacation either. Also places like Elements and Massage Envy seem to hire bad managers, because both place I have worked in the state of Texas, tell you if you cant work the time and you cant heal faster then I’ll replace you. Texas is a Hire and Fire at will state so we LMTs get used at abused a lot. I would love to see something like this in our state as well.

  2. I disagree. I have done both. I absolution make more money working for myself. Tax write offs and I spend less time at my office because I make more. Scheming tool run 15 bucks a month to 30 depending on what you want to do. Doing laundry at home is a write off. Finding and out source is affordable. So many more benefits working add 8 your own boss. There are head aches too but still worth it.
    I’m no way for a union tho! I’m all for making the states accountable for the rules they have in place that they don’t up hold.

  3. I work for a franchise, & I get paid minimum wage & we don’t get paid for our last hour when we have a set schedule

  4. I have not worked for a franchise as mentioned above. I have worked independently as well as for a high end spa. What I will say is that there should be standards on between client downtime. I know some therapists who may have only five minutes to breakdown linens, sanitize, air room (COVID protocol now added in) and redress table. How is this possible day after day and sometimes on 7-10 clients a day. Hurray for the therapists who can work a body at that rate, but there should be self care opportunities for workers to rest their tools.. Hands and body. No breaks for lunch or dinner. Clients are not often on time so no real windows of opportunity to clean properly and prepare. Sure, he clients are provided for you , but no real care to the worker. It is also an energy zap at times. This is real. My fight for employees who work for these establishments would be to have proper space of time in between each client. I have gone off on my own because I don’t want to work for someone who takes majority of service charge. I can work on fewer bodies in a day and potentially earn the same or MORE doing the business myself. I am on the fence for a union as I think we as therapists should set the standard for our profession.


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