A few days ago, I opened my e-mail account to find a blurb about a New York Times special report on exploited and underpaid manicurists in New York City. It surprised me in a positive way to see that someone finally took the time to investigate the practices surrounding salon workers, because over the years, I, myself, have had a few questions concerning this seemingly isolated economic class of people.
I live in New Jersey, only a river away from the Big Apple, though I imagine life is not easy for salon workers on either side of the Hudson. Through acetone soaks and ultraviolet rays, I’ve gotten to know the women and men working in my local salons. Some are talkative and some are reserved. Some wish to travel, while some are quite grateful to live in the United States. Some of them own and rent homes, while some pop their heads downstairs with a plate full of kimchi in hand, leading me to wonder if multiple families live in the small apartment above the salon. Some are Korean, some are Vietnamese, and some hail from unknown places in Latin America. Each salon’s culture is a bit unique, and over the years I have inwardly wondered if these people are oppressed, or if some of them are mistreated, or if they do this by choice and are truly content, so long as their families can survive.
Do they even make enough for their families to survive?
The New York Times report discovered through interviews with over 150 nail salon workers and owners over a thirteen month period that a tremendous number of these people are paid below minimum wage, or not paid at all. In fact, they are not even listed among the lowest paid workers in the country. They also may have their tips deducted as form of punishment for small errors, and are often monitored around the clock by video cameras and even, at times, subjected to physical abuse.
Of course, employers in New York City have not experienced penalty for these violations of American labor laws, while the industry workers whom they exploit continue to suffer in these poor conditions.
So now that we can confirm this is happening, how can we fix it?
We can start by carefully observing our surroundings for any alarming signs and reporting them to the Better Business Bureau or to authorities, that is, if we proceed to frequent nail salons.
Tipping our manicurists and pedicurists, eyebrow waxers, and masseuses at least the $5.00 minimum that people tend to leave is another crucial step that entreats my own awareness. I cannot stand idly by and allow someone to work on my person — part of my body — and give merely pennies for his or her efforts. Personally, I always leave my manicurist or pedicurist at least $7.00-$10.00 for a single service and $15.00 if I receive a mani/pedi. My rationale is, if I cannot afford to tip these workers, I should not go out and receive these services, as they are luxuries. This action, however, only helps in the short-term.
As a society, we must petition and advocate for these people to receive at least federal minimum wage. It is criminal that tipped employees in food service receive $2.13/hour, which generally goes toward taxes and never reaches the paycheck; salon workers often work “under the table” and do not even make an hourly wage. Make these facts known! Share the New York Times piece on social media and spread the word.
This has occurred for decades and we cannot allow this to continue. It is beyond the point of waiting. Let’s do the right thing together.