The New York Times (NYT) reported in May, that nail salon workers are routinely underpaid, exploited and face harsh and at times demeaning work conditions.
A NYT reporter interviewed a young immigrant woman from China who was on her way to her new job as a manicurist at a Long Island nail salon. The salon owner where twenty year old Jing Ren works charges $100 “training” fee to each new employee when they first start their job. This starting rule is the same for each new manicurist in the New York City area.
“She would work for no wages, subsisting on meager tips, until her boss decided she was skillful enough to merit a wage” reports The New York Times. It would be approximately three months before Ren would receive a pay check of a mere thirty dollars a day.
More than 150 nail salon workers and owners, consisting of four different languages, were interviewed by The NYT. It was discovered that a large majority of workers are paid below minimum wage and some aren’t even paid at all. Workers experience all types of humiliation, including wage theft, their tips docked as punishment for small work incidents like a spilled bottle of nail polish, constant video monitoring by owners, and some reported physical abuse. Some class action cases have been brought against salon owners but it’s rare that employers are punished for labor and other workplace violations.
This is not to say that all nail salons operate this way, but even one salon exploiting workers like this is one too many.
The vast majority of the workers interviewed by The NYT, like Ms. Ren, spoke little English and many are in the country illegally. This combination makes them even more vulnerable to workplace abuse.
Last year, the New York State Labor Department, along with several other agencies, conducted its first nail salon sweep and investigators inspected 29 salons and found 116 wage violations.
On Friday, New York lawmakers approved tougher regulation of nail salons which is designed to help protect over 40,000 workers many of whom are female immigrants from wage theft and other workplace hazards. Governor Andrew Cuomo stated a new multi-agency task force will immediately conduct investigations in every salon to protect manicurists from chemicals in nail products, and educate workers on their rights. The legislation gives the Department of State the right to close businesses that violate the law.