From Daily Mail:
An investigative journalist has uncovered the grueling working conditions and abhorrent treatment New York nail salon workers face, as they make $10 per day or less providing the cheap manicures and pedicures the city is known for.
New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir learned after a 13-month investigation that many of the city's nail salon employees are living in overcrowded, cockroach-infested apartments in areas like Flushing, Queens, working 12 hours a day or more - while making little to no money. The journalist shared her eye-opening finding in her aptly titled two-part series The Price of Nice Nails.
'Out of all the people I spoke to, only three said they were paid in a way that seemed proper - hourly, with different types of compensation,' Sarah told Vice of the more than 100 workers she interviewed, adding: 'And two of them had worked at the same salon.'
Manicurists are considered 'tipped workers', which means employers in New York can pay them a rate that is slightly less than the state's minimum wage of $8.75 per hour, but the women Sarah spoke say they are barely making enough money to survive.
Jing Ren, a 20-year-old immigrant from China, revealed to Sarah that she had to pay a $100 'training fee' at her place of employment, which is a typical practice among salons. According to the agreement, she would work only for tips until she was deemed skilled enough to be given a daily wage. It took her almost three months before she began making $30 a day.
And after working 10 to 12 hours a day at the Long Island salon, she returns home to Flushing, where she lives in a one bedroom apartment with her cousin, her cousin's father and three other strangers.
The apartment is infested with cockroaches and they sleep in the living room, with each bed sectioned off with shower curtains, which are hung from the ceiling.
Sarah met Jing last May on a street corner in Flushing where she and other nail salon workers await for the vans that will shuttle them to their place of employment.
'I actually spent every morning for about three months at those pick-up spots with a translator or two, going from woman to woman saying: "I want to tell your story. Will you tell it to me?"' Sarah told Vice.
In addition to meager pay and long hours, nail salon employees are often treated horrifically. With current lawsuits citing alleged abuses including a Harlem salon, in which the employees claim they were charged for 'drinking the water' and were given no play on slow days. Meanwhile, a minichain of salons on Long Island is being accused of physically and verbally abusing its manicurists.
There are also reports of tips or wages being deducted for punishment for minor infractions or skimmed - if they are even delivered at all.
Qing Lin, a 47-year-old nail salon employee, recalled the time she had her pay deducted because she accidentally splashed nail polish remover on a customer's Prada sandals. When the customer insisted on being compensated for the mistake, Qing told Sarah that her boss took $270 out of her wages and asked her never to come back.
And when asked to discuss their unethical salon practices, many salon owners spoke freely with Sarah without any shame, insisting that they run their salons in a certain way in order to ensure that they continue to survive.
Jing's boss Lian Sheng Sun, who goes by the name Howard told the newspaper that 'salons have different ways of conducting their business', after initially denying any wrong doing.
Like Jing, many of the women are illegal immigrants of Korean, Chinese or Hispanic descent, who speak little to no English. And because of this, salons believe they are actually helping these women despite the abysmal pay and long hours.
'I think the owners see themselves as heroic. They're hiring a really difficult-to-employ class of people - people without papers, people [who don't know the] English language, and with few transferable skills. So they think they're doing their countrymen a favor,' Sarah explained to Vice.
There are also issues of racism.
'Korean workers routinely earn twice as much as their peers, valued above others by the Korean owners who dominate the industry and who are often shockingly plain-spoken in their disparagement of workers of other backgrounds,' Sarah wrote in her piece. 'Chinese workers occupy the next rung in the hierarchy; Hispanics and other non-Asians are at the bottom.'
Many of the issues Sarah cited are the result of the incredibly low price of manicures, with the cost of the treatment in the New York City area being almost half the national average.
'The idea of cheap luxury is an oxymoron. It doesn't exist,' Sarah added to Vice. 'The only way that nail salons exist and manicures exist at the price they are in New York City is with someone else bearing the cost of your discount.'
And then there is the issue of the potentially-toxic products salon workers are surrounded by every single day.
According to the second part of Sarah's two-part report, 'stories of illness and tragedy abound at nail salons across the country', with many workers suffering from miscarriages, cancers, coughs and painful skin conditions. And many of those who have had children while working at the salons also say that their babies were born with disabilities, both mental and physical.
'The stories have become so common that older manicurists warn women of child-bearing age away from the business, with its potent brew of polishes, solvents, hardeners and glues that nail workers handle daily,' Sarah wrote.
Indeed, many medical experts have also warned about the serious impact the most 'useful' beauty-based chemicals - those which make sure your nails remain chip-free and glossy for weeks on end - can have on your health.
And, as Sarah's report highlights, research in this area is limited, meaning that there may well be other health issues linked to the chemicals being used daily by salon workers that have yet to be discovered.
One salon worker, Ki Ok Chung, told Sarah that working with nail files and solvents every day over the course of several years actually caused her fingerprints to 'disappear', leaving her with incredibly sensitive fingers which mean she is unable to touch hot or cold dishes without experiencing dire pain.
'There are so many stories but no one that dares to tell them,' salon worker Nancy Otavalo, from Queens, explained to Sarah. 'No one dares to tell them because they have no one to tell.'