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Some NYC Nail Salons Still Have Unpaid Training Periods for Workers

Driely S.

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New York State was quick to respond to the New York Times' exposé on the terrible conditions for nail salon employees across the city, even going as far as to enact legislation that'll imprison owners who are running unlicensed businesses. But unsurprisingly, they haven't yet checked all of New York City's nearly 2,000 nail salons for violations just yet. A reporter for Animal New York went undercover following the newspaper's May 10th publication and was subjected to an unpaid training period, even though she worked in a salon that had already been charging higher-than-average prices for manicures and pedicures.

The unnamed reporter, who only identified herself as female and a recent immigrant from South Korea, learned during her interview at the salon within a full-service salon that eventually hired her is that she'd be unpaid during a two-week training period and had to pay $50 for her own tool kit (which, she admitted, cost less than its retail price). "It was a discouraging start," she wrote, adding that the workers' bill of rights that is now required to be prominently posted in several languages was nowhere to be found.

"But during the first two weeks at the salon, I was trained thoroughly on grooming, safety and hygiene requirements," she continued."The whole experience was not unlike an apprenticeship. I was soon allowed to receive customers, along with any and all tips that came from them."

Most of those tips, however, weren't from customers suffering from manicure guilt. She wrote that she typically received $3 to $5 regardless of the service she performed, along with an occasional $20 (their most popular service, a combo mani-pedi, is $50). Two women who balked at the price of an $80 gel mani-pedi only left a $6 combined tip, even after a co-worker reduced their service price to $60 apiece. And the majority of customers—and fellow nail technicians—that this author approached either hadn't heard of the piece, "simply did not care, or were quick to change the subject."

During a meeting during a slow shift, the author said that the salon manager suggested instituting a minimum price by law of "no less than $40" would be the most effective way to regulate the industry. "You want good service, a clean environment? All of these things, training, disposable files, buffers, quality materials—these costs add up," the manager reportedly said. "You go to those cheap $20, $25 places, you'll see that they're filthy, disgusting. You can't pay rent on those prices, let alone run a good business."

Still grappling on where to go? Check out our lists of ethical salons here and here, or learn how to become an at-home expert.