NYSC’s membership fee charges right now are uncalled for

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ajay_suresh / Wikimedia Commons

Diana Shishkina

The New York Sports Clubs gym franchise  took to its Twitter and announced on Twitter that membership fees have been suspended for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic on April 8.

“In continued adherence with governmental guidelines concerning COVID-19, all of our clubs remain closed and all memberships have been put on freeze,” NYSC wrote in a tweet.

This announcement may seem like a good thing, but it came about five weeks too late. The 53 NYSC gyms have been closed since March 16, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed an executive order to shut down all nonessential businesses, forcing gym-goers to work out by themselves at home or outdoors. Additionally, the announcement came after over 600,000 NYSC members were charged their monthly membership fee — ranging from $30 to $120 — on April 1.

It is outrageous to see that NYSC members’ bank accounts were still charged on the first day of the month, especially since they already paid the full monthly fee for March and only could work out for half of the month that they paid for. 

In addition, some members who worked with personal trainers at the NYSC gyms — which costs an additional few hundred each month, depending on the workout plan — also were charged despite not being able to work with the trainers. Others had their annual fee of $59.99 docked from their bank accounts, on top of these other fees.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against NYSC and its owner Town Sports International Holdings in a Manhattan federal court on March 26, due to the lack of response from the company to its members as gyms all over the city closed down because of COVID-19.

Throughout March, members who have tried to call or email their local NYSC gym branch were unsuccessful, as either there received no answer or just an automatic email message that stated, in part, that NYSC will “address any requests, questions, and concerns when all clubs are fully operational.”

NYSC’s late response given the pandemic is grossly unacceptable. The franchise is already known for making it difficult to cancel one’s membership for any reason — one must either go to their local gym to cancel in person or send a certified letter to start the cancellation process, and even then, there have been countless stories of members still getting charged even after canceling. — and the fact that Town Sports International got a hold of over $30 million from its customers during a global crisis is disgusting.

Additionally, it is likely that the only reason the gym franchise got its act together at all is because on April 5, New York state Attorney General Letitia James ordered the company to suspend membership fees or the duration of the pandemic.

James sent a letter to Town Sports International CEO Patrick Walsh, stating that his company “has violated multiple State laws” by charging members for services that they can’t access and withholding information from them regarding membership cancellations or freezes. James vowed to take legal action if Town Sports International continued to defraud members in this way.

This whole situation would be more understandable if NYSC still hosted virtual workout classes and had trainers working to give members a valuable gym experience, even at home.

Trainers and fitness instructors are also suffering due to loss of income and it’s worth supporting them during this difficult time. However, members weren’t getting charged in order to help cover staff costs.

Every non-executive NYSC employee has been laid off and is unsure of their job status in the coming months. NYSC members basically threw their money away into the wind, and it is still unclear whether the cancellation process will become easier for the disgruntled NYSC members who are not planning to come back once the coronavirus pandemic passes.

At a time when New York has seen a record number of people filing for unemployment — an amount that has completely overwhelmed the state Department of Labor website — even $30 is too much to pay for a service that is completely useless right now. If NYSC hopes to still have a customer base after the pandemic passes, it needs to overhaul its business practices completely, or risk closing down forever.