Your Cheap Manicure Leaves Manicurists With No Pay

May 8, 2015  |  

With Spring in full bloom, many of us are headed to our local nail salons for manicures and pedicures. But many are clueless as to what nail technicians earn after beauty services have been completed. In an investigative series by Sarah Maslin Nir for The New York Times, nail technicians along with nail salon owners expose the truth about wages earn and how workers are treated. In her report, Nir followed nail technicians such as 20-year-old Jing Ren who is a recent immigrant from China. Ren had to pay the salon owner where she was employed a fee of $100 and bring her own supplies when she initially began her employment. In order to sustain a living as a beginning manicurist, Ren would have to live on small tips until her employer decided if her skills were good enough to merit wages.

This practice was confirmed by other manicurists in other salons outside of New York. In her research, Nir learned there are more than 17,000 nail salons nationwide; within New York City region the number of salons has tripled to 2,000 since 2012. For many nail salons in New York City, wages are as meager as $10 a day.

Also, in various interviews conducted by The New York Times, manicurists revealed their tips are sometimes docked even small errors. They are constantly monitored via video surveillance and even endure physical abuse. In 2014, the first nail salon sweep was conducted by the New York State Labor Department along with other employment agencies. Twenty-nine salons that were inspected were found to have 116 wage violations.

Many of the problems manicurists face stem from the low prices customers pay. Nicole Hallett, Yale University Law Professor, shared, “You can be assured if you go to a place with rock-bottom prices that chances are the workers’ wages are being stolen. The costs are borne by the low-wage workers who are doing your nails.” Howard (Lian Sheng Sun) who owns the salon where Ren works denied any wrong-doing, but defended the deplorable status quo. He stated, “Salons have different ways of conducting their business. We run our business our own way to keep our small business surviving.” When Howard finally decided to pay Ren for her work, he paid her under $3 an hour.

The regulations and certifications needed to open and operate a nail salon are lax to begin with and rarely enforced. Some owners own the property their nail salons occupy. Other may have to pay for rent; all owners are responsible for purchasing new bottles of nail polish.

In salons, The New York Times says, the ranks are divided into “Little Job,” “Medium Job,” and “Big Job.” The duties of the “Little Job” position are mostly housekeeping and pedicures. Manicures are done as part of the “Medium Job.” Those who are veteran nail techs are known as “Big Job” employees perform acrylic manicures. Although these employees receive the most money for performing this job, manicurists who are younger avoid it because it’s been tied to severe health problems such as miscarriages and cancer stemming from the fumes or plastic particles from the acrylic.

Manicurist Ki Ok Chung worked in nail salons for over two decades and never wore gloves because they were not allowed by employers. By doing so, Chung realized her fingerprints have nearly disappeared. Now she cannot touch dishes if they are hot or cold without severe pain. Another nail technician claimed she inhaled so much acrylic dust, her husband would not want to kiss her because her mouth tasted like the chemical solvent. In order to create better regulation for manicurists, there have been lobbyists who have petitioned Congress to screen toxic ingredients in nail polish, nail polish remover and even lipstick. In California, there is a voluntary programs for salons to enter who are want to carry safer products for their consumers.

Click here to read the two-part series: “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers” and “The Price Of Nice Nails.”

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