Manicurists often work for no wages and subsist on meager tips until their employers decide they are good enough for a wage, according to an explosive new investigation by the New York Times.
After interviewing more than 150 nail salon workers and owners over thirteen months, the Times learned that salons often charge their new manicurists up to $US100 to work there, force them to wear nametags with fake names chosen by employers, and adhere to an ethnic hierarchy that places Koreans at the top and hispanics and non-Asians at the bottom.
Many manicurists are illegal immigrants and speak little English, making it easier for salon owners to exploit them. The highest paid manicurists — who are normally Korean, youthful, and attractive — can make between $US50-$US80 per day, the Times found. For everyone else, however, the average wage hovers around $US35 per day, or $US3 an hour.
Because nail salon workers are technically considers tipped employees under state and federal labour laws, employers are allowed to pay them less than minimum wage as long as they are making up for it in tips. But manicurists’ tips usually fall far short of the minimum wage, and employers rarely, if ever, make up the difference, according to the Times.
The New York State Labour Department conducted its first ever sweeping investigation of nail salons last year and found 116 wage violations at 29 salons.
The Times noted one East North port, NY salon being sued by employees who had been paid $US1.50 an hour for a 66 hour work week.
Another salon in Hicksville, New York was described by a customer in a Yelp review as “basically a sweatshop,” the Times noted.
Lhamo Dolma, 39, a manicurist from Tibet, told the Times that a Brooklyn salon she had worked for previously essentially segregated their employees, forcing non-Koreans to eat lunch together in a kitchenette while Koreans were permitted to eat at their desks.
“Their country people, they are completely free,” she told the Times, crying. “Why do they make us two different? Everybody is the same.”
Many salon owners interviewed by the Times insisted that they were doing nothing wrong and that underpayment was the only way they could afford to keep their salon open. They have taken advantage of the fact that their employees usually don’t know that their $US30-a-day wages are illegally low.
As immigrants, the Times notes, many are happy to even have a job at all. “When a beginner comes in, they don’t know anything, and they give you a job,” Sona Grung, the owner of Sona Nails in Stuyvesant Town, New York told the Times
. “If you work in a nail salon for $US35, it’s very good.”