Do You Care About Ethical Nail Salons?

May 10, 2016  |  

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Yesterday New York City Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered 143 salons to repay up to $2 million in damages to 652 workers who were paid less than minimum wage ($9 an hour) or illegally denied overtime. The ruling is the result of findings from the Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force created last year to put a stop to well known abuses occurring in the nail industry.

So far 383 of the 450 salons under investigation — either due to a history of complaints or by random choosing — have been inspected. According to the NY Daily News, “Many shops were caught paying a weekly rate that came out to well below minimum wage — sometimes $200 for 40 to 50 hour weeks, adding up to $4-5 an hour, a Cuomo spokesman said. Others didn’t pay entry-level, unlicensed workers at all for their first few weeks on the job — and even forced the workers to fork over a $200-300 fee to get trained. And owners deducted the cost of gloves and masks, which they’re required to provide, from employees’ paychecks.”

I’m telling on myself when I confess I never thought about ethical nail salons before this past Friday when a friend treated me to a manicure for my birthday. Explaining why she picked that particular salon — other than it’s proximity to a great Latin restaurant — she said, “It’s a bit pricier, but it’s clean and they pay their workers a living wage.

“There’s been a big push for ethical salons lately because of that New York Times article that came out last year,” she reminded me. “And you know, really, we shouldn’t be paying $20 for a manicure and pedicure. If we’re paying that little, what are they (the nail technicians) making?”

“Girl, I’ve paid $17 for a mani/pedi in Harlem,” I told her. “I never even thought about what the women were making. I just wondered why my feet were being lathered with soap out of a reused Ajax bottle.”

It was true. The ethics of the numerous insanely discounted nail services I’ve received in the nearly nine years I’ve lived in New York never crossed my mind. Cleanliness? Yes, which is why I pretty much stopped patronizing the salons in my ‘hood. But ethics? No.

While I applaud Gov. Cuomo for launching this Task Force and making these nail salons pay up, I can’t excuse my own role in perpetuating this system. More than just thinking about supporting Black business when I go to the pricier Bed of Nails in Harlem that was opened by a then-25-year-old young Black female entrepreneur in 2013, I need to think about not supporting the exploitation of other women of color who, just like me, want to make a life for themselves. If paying a little more to ensure that happens is what it costs, fine. I can afford it; these nail technicians being taken advantage of can’t.

Are you careful to only patronize ethical nail salons?

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