Last May, The New York Times published an article which was aptly named “The Price of Nice Nails.” In it, the sordid details of what life is like for the thousands of immigrants who work at New York City’s roughly 2,000 nail salons were described. The workers are mostly young women from countries including Korea, China, Mexico, Ecuador and Tibet.
After paying an employer $100 to $200 to begin working at a salon, the young women then enter into a sort of apprenticeship for which they are rarely paid. It is then up to the discretion of a nail salon owner to decide when and if a worker is worthy of pay. When a worker is paid, the amount is shockingly low with employers reasoning that workers must work hard to earn good tips.
These and many other disturbing details came to light after investigations were launched into the employment and business practices of nail salons throughout the city. In a sweep of 29 salons, New York State Labor Department officials issued “116 wage violations.”
From no pay to as little as $10 per day, officials were shocked at not only the blatant and egregious disregard of state labor laws, but also how workers were routinely taken advantage of and abused by scrupulous employers. Rampant acts of wage theft not only occur in New York City’s nail salons, but also industry-wide and in cities across the country.
The problem is especially epidemic in New York City where the average manicure in Manhattan costs just $10.50. Most workers speak little to no English and are also unaware of U.S. labor laws and their rights with regard to minimum wages. In an effort to crack down on wage theft within the city’s nail salon industry, new state regulations were recently implemented which requires salon owners to purchase wage bonds, which serve as “a form of insurance intended to protect workers from wage theft.”
In response to the new requirements, Korean and Chinese nail salon owner trade groups filed a lawsuit asserting the wage bond requirement was not only unfair, but also financially prohibitive for some salon owners. Last week, the trade groups’ lawsuit was dismissed by a judge who cited the necessity of the wage bond requirement in preserving the “public health, safety or general welfare of nail salon workers.”
Source: The New York Times, “New York Court Dismisses Challenge to Nail Salon Wage Protections,” Elizabeth A. Harris, Dec. 8, 2015