Massage Therapists Make an Impact at Oregon Organizing Summit

As dozens of organizers and union members came together to celebrate the 2015 Oregon AFL-CIO Organizing Summit, they were joined by two unlikely leaders of the latest group of people organizing for good jobs and fair pay — licensed massage therapists (LMTs). Not many people think of massage therapists as activists, but they haven’t met Charlie Cavallo and Janet Weiser … yet!

Janet and Charlie are two Portland-based licensed massage therapists (LMTs), and their work is part of something exciting that is happening among the city’s massage therapists.

The pair is part of a growing team of LMTs who are standing up to make their jobs better. Despite years of training, many massage therapists face low pay, long hours and strenuous, physical work. Because of this, therapists have high rates of injuries, and many of them struggle to pay off large student debts with a meager paycheck.

These problems have grown all the worse with the spread of large massage franchise chains, which do even more to drive down standards in the industry. 

Recognizing that working conditions will only get better if they organize, dozens of therapists have now come together to form the Massage Advocacy Project (MAP).

“When I moved to Oregon in 2010 and started working for a popular spa, I felt pretty angry. I was working a lot and wasn’t happy with the pay and conditions, so I used to walk around saying to my co-workers, ’We need to have a union,’” said Charlie.

While few massage therapists have access to a traditional union with collective bargaining rights, the group has decided to go ahead and build a new kind of organization to raise standards and make their work lives better.

The pair participated in group discussions at the summit, and as the many groups of working people exchanged their stories, it became clearer just how much they all had in common. For Janet, participating in that group made a huge difference: “I felt inspired and welcomed by the group. We all face struggles surrounding our workplaces, and I felt that what was being said was actually being heard.”

That inspiration was felt by everyone who was there and heard about the MAP’s plans to raise wages and standards for therapists. That work was a source of pride for Charlie, who said, “I was proud to be there with Working America, and I’m really happy that they are working with massage therapists to improve conditions and increase awareness.”