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Nail Salon Industry Reforms Are Working, Mostly

Driely S.

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As expected, the state's swift response to the New York Times' unearthing of nail salon industry abuses is already in motion: State officials report that they've inspected more than 750 salons and issued nearly 1,800 violations, with the goal of visiting 2,900 salons by the end of August. The Department of Labor has opened up twice as many investigations into allegations of underpayment in the past month than it typically does in an entire year. But the paper's follow-up to its investigation from two months ago with a survey of 100 salons in Manhattan uncovered what they called "uneven" results.

Nearly half of the salons visited didn't have the required bill of rights clearly posted, and just a handful of employees were using gloves and proper masks (one employee interviewed claimed it wasn't necessary: "It's too much; we can't wear this all the time...Our job is not that dangerous a job").  But self-reporting from the nail technicians themselves generally painted a brighter picture.

"Our salary is getting close to the standard level of minimum wage," said Peng Xu, a manicurist on Long Island who has seen his salary increase from $6 to $8 per hour, plus overtime.  "And it feels good." Most salons surveyed hadn't increased their rates, so the pay bump isn't coming out of customers' pockets. Another employee at a salon in Westchester County was enjoying her newfound lunch break. However, at the Upper East Side's Flower Nail & Spa, one employee claimed that everyone's hours have been cut back so that the salon doesn't have to increase their rates.

"I know the article tried to help us to work less, with higher pay and get good benefits, from good owners," an unnamed employee who works at two salons, including Flower Nail, told the paper. "But for some employees it created a worse situation."

The worst situation, though, is when customers don't show up at all. Though many manicurists interviewed said that they've seen tip increases by as much as 15%, those who have abstained from salons due to manicure guilt are putting jobs at risk. Rong Gao of Shangri-La Nails & Spa on the Upper East Side is considering closing her salon because she can't afford the $10,000 monthly rent when customers aren't coming in, especially during sandal season. According to her, "The salon industry is hit hard this time."