Update, 5/11/15: In response to the New York Times article about exploited workers in nail salons, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an emergency order to create a task force that will inspect every nail salon in New York City. The task force, effective immediately, will work to ensure that every salon in the city is complying with labor laws, NYmag.com reports.
These laws include requiring workers’ rights being posted in six different languages within salons, manicurists must wear gloves and face masks, and if a salon goes out of business, their workers must still be paid. Any nail salons that do not comply with the new regulations would be shut down.
Original Post, 5/7/15:
Getting a manicure is an affordable luxury most of us love to enjoy. But how many of us ever consider the women behind our carefully painted fingertips and what kind of conditions they are employed under? According to a new exposé in the New York Times, manicurists have been found to be routinely underpaid and constantly exploited, with essentially little-to-no improvement over the last decade.
In over 150 interviews conducted in New York City, the Times found that a majority of workers are paid well below minimum wage — if they’re even paid at all. Many workers know limited English and may be living in the United States without proper immigration papers; therefore, they are easily taken advantage of because they have no way of complaining to the labor authorities. The Times found these women — nail salons are a primarily female sector — endure various types of unfair treatment, from physical abuse, to tips being docked and other humiliating actions.
Salons have forced workers to hand over any cash they make, usually $100-$200 as a training fee, while others must pay a fee in order to even start working at a salon, and must work there for free until the owner feels they deserve to finally be paid. When asked why salons treat their workers so poorly and refuse to pay them the minimum, one owner said, “We run our business our own way to keep our small business surviving.”
With New York City being the “capital for manicures,” (it has more nail salons per capita than Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston), it’s a bit surprising to see such a widely spread injustice go unnoticed by so many. Thankfully, last year the New York State Department of Labor did it’s first nail salon investigation sweep. They came up with 116 wage violations in 29 salons, with only a quarter of the employees actually making minimum wage, the Times reported.
The abusive practices are a harsh contrast to most of the lives of women enjoying these inexpensive manicures. The harsh reality is that as long as there is a demand for $10 (or less) manis, the exploitation of manicurists will continue to exist. We can only hope law enforcement will continue investigations in order to enforce fair working conditions — and women seeking some pampering choose their nail salons wisely.