The Times has published a long investigative report on the workers at nail salons in the New York area, revealing that manicurists are often paid as little as $10 a day, are frequently punished financially and occasionally even physically for minor transgressions, and live in squalid conditions they can barely afford. Just something to think about next time you squeal over a $25 mani/pedi deal.
Reporter Sarah Maslin Nir spent over a year compiling research on nail salons in the city and on Long Island, and today the paper finally published "The Price of Nice Nails" in English, Korean, Chinese and Spanish. Its 6,000 words drum up a lot damning information—workers are often paid far below minimum wage, if at all; employers openly disparage non-Korean employees; and new hires often have to pay just to start working—and to learn new skills like gel manicures and waxing. It is, in effect, a ubiquitous modern sweatshop industry:
Nora Cacho was paid about 50 percent of the price of every manicure or lip wax she did at a Harlem shop that was part of a chain, Envy Nails. She frequently earned about $200 for each 66-hour workweek — about $3 an hour. In sandal season, if she was lucky, she left the shop with slightly more — $300 each week, she said. On snowy days, Ms. Cacho, who is part of a class-action lawsuit against the chain, would return home with nothing. The chain’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
Ms. Cacho, who is from Ecuador, initially saw the industry as her financial salvation, as do many other immigrants. But what seems a way up usually gives way to a grinding existence.
Salon workers describe a culture of subservience that extends far beyond the pampering of customers. Tips or wages are often skimmed or never delivered, or deducted as punishment for things like spilled bottles of polish. At her Harlem salon, Ms. Cacho said she and her colleagues had to buy new clothes in whatever color the manager decided was fashionable that week. Cameras are regularly hidden in salons, piping live feeds directly to owners’ smartphones and tablets.
Qing Lin, 47, a manicurist who has worked on the Upper East Side for the last 10 years, still gets emotional when recounting the time a splash of nail polish remover marred a customer’s patent Prada sandals. When the woman demanded compensation, the $270 her boss pressed into the woman’s hand came out of the manicurist’s pay. Ms. Lin was asked not to return.
“I am worth less than a shoe,” she said.
Mir told Vice she was inspired to write the piece after a pedicurist told her she worked 24 hours a day, sleeping only on her one day off. "I was like, This woman's in prison," she said. "People had to shake her to keep her awake. And then she would do a treatment. I just thought it was crazy."
You can read the entire Times story on their website.