May 12, 2015
Last week, the NY Times published a series of very in-depth articles about the horrors of the nail salon industry in New York. Given that we’ve all gotten mani/pedis in our lives, the article piqued our interest.
If you haven’t read at least a summary of the investigation, the low-lights are as follows. Many nail salon workers work for zero to little wages a day, a “good” wage being something like $45/day. They often work for just tips and they are housed in tiny bunkers somewhere in Queens with horrendous living conditions. Many of them are not actually licensed (actually not very shocking tbh) technicians.
Okay so it’s not like we’re shocked to hear they don’t make great wages, but we have often wondered how on earth a salon can charge $7 for a manicure and still afford to pay its workers. Now we know, they don’t. What’s particularly alarming about all this is the bizarre hierarchy described between the races that work in nail salons. According to the Times, Koreans tend to rule the world of NY salons, while Chinese fall second, and “other Asians and non Asians” fall below that. It’s more than just being the cool Asians of the industry - this is some Marxist class exploitation shit.
What do we make out of all this? I mean, a couple thoughts went through our heads. One being – a lot of these workers are undocumented, so is NY Times blowing up their spot right now? Also, are these considered better conditions than whatever poverty they left in their country? We at least hope so, otherwise it sucks even harder. Obvs we think human rights as a bottom line surpasses papers and documents and whatever, but our scale of reference is going to be very different from an illegal immigrant whose other option was to be say, a sex worker. That’s an extreme of course, we doubt that was the fate of most of these people, but still begs us to consider the perspective these workers have on their own lives. And anyone that wants to argue that illegal immigrants are illegal and taking jobs – um would you ever work for no wages for 3 months straight filing toenails? Yeah, so we really doubt they’re “taking” anyone’s jobs.
Another thought that went through our minds was… you can survive on $45 a day in New York? HOW? Because even an apartment in Bushwick is worth more than a house in Cleveland. Case in point: Zosia Mamet lives there.
Finally, our philanthropic hearts actually kicked in and made us think – well what the fuck can we do? It sounds like this is a government policy issue – that the industry needs to be regulated. If we all boycotted our salon visits, that would only give these workers less tips and possibly even so little business they’d lose their jobs. But if we keep going, then we perpetuate the system.
So at this point, what you as a betch while you’re waiting on Cuomo to follow through with his investigation is to ask your nail technician if she’s getting wages. If she admits to the horrendous conditions divulged in this Times article, you can report the salon to the Labor Department anonymously here by calling the hotline (1-888-469-7365).
And it goes without saying, but... tip your manicurists.