21st-Century Sweatshops: Pretty Nails “Cost” More Than You Think

Nail Salon Employees Workplace Conditions and WagesAn investigation launched by the New York Times has recently exposed the devastating, illegal conditions prevalent in many nail salons within New York City – conditions that include the stealing of tips, failure to pay overtime or even minimum wage, and the intense exposure to toxic fumes and chemicals.   It’s hardly a reach to conclude that these sort of deplorable practices are occurring in North Carolina as well.

Manicures and pedicures have become a growing grooming staple for women across the United States and there are now more than 17,000 nail salons according to U.S. census data. The number of salons in 2012 in the Big Apple alone has more than tripled over the past decade and a half. The Times interviewed a vast number of nail salon workers and owners and found that the majority are paid below minimum wage, and are sometimes not even paid at all. Additionally, employees often have their tips docked as punishment for minor infractions; they are constantly video-monitored by owners; and they are sometimes even physically abused. Unfortunately, a huge, glaring issue facing the city of New York is the fact that owners of such nail salons are seemingly flying under the radar and are rarely punished for labor violations.

Last year, the New York State Labor Department conducted its first-ever nail salon sweep. Investigators found approximately 116 wage violations within 29 inspected salons. Moreover, among the 100+ workers interviewed by the Times, only about a quarter said that they were paid an amount consistent with New York State’s minimum hourly wage requirements and almost all workers stated that they had never received overtime pay.

New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo has stepped up the plate. Cuomo discussed new measures to combat these wage issues in nail salons in an attempt to prompt more manicurists, some of whom are in the country illegally, to bring lawsuits or make claims to the state labor department. Under Cuomo’s new initiative, a multiagency enforcement task force will aim to recover unpaid wages for workers, implement new health and safety regulations for nail salon employees and shut down unlicensed or non-compliant businesses. In addition to these investigations, nail salons will be required to post notices in several different languages describing employees’ rights to full wages. Workers will also be encouraged to report issues in the employment environment, despite their immigration status.

Another possible solution is unionization for some of the larger salons. During collective bargaining, a union can lock in wage rates and create a grievance process for maltreatment.

At Van Kampen Law, we’d like to do our part to combat this epidemic. If you work at a salon and have been victimized in this way, call to schedule a confidential consultation. We may be able to help.