Labor investigators have stepped up their investigations at nail salons across the state of New York since May, after a series of complaints prompted them to scrutinize the work and payment policies of the industry.
The investigations have incited a round of criticism, mostly from salon owners who claim the story of poorly paid employees have been greatly exaggerated. However, evidence shows the ugly truth behind the beauty industry, which includes overtime work and underpayment of manicurists.
Workers in Manhattan were being paid $30 for a 10-hour shift while employees at a Queens’ nail salon were paid only $200 dollars for the week. New employees were forced to work without a pay or pay the salon owner a fee, presumably for their training. Many owners divulged during questioning that they created fake payrolls about unpaid workers to fool their auditors.
The Labor Department cited more than 40 percent of New York’s salons underpay their employees and have ordered them to pay $1.1 million in back payments and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
This is indeed a huge win for the workers.
In their defense, the salon owners have said many of their employees are immigrant workers who are not authorized to work in the city and would rather be paid in cash under the table. Others have said they haven’t done anything wrong and a few bad operators have ruined the image of all salons.
Once deemed as a luxury only reserved for extravagant events, manicures have now became the beauty staple for women all over the world. In just the United States, there are over 17,000 nail salons, according to census data. The number of salons in New York City alone tripled over a decade and reached 2,000 in 2012.
But the blatant exploitation of the nail service employees has been largely overlooked. Workers endure all sorts of abuses, including having their tips docked for minor transgressions, constant video surveillance and even paying for gloves. Employers are hardly ever taken to task for their human rights violations.