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Nail Salon Workers Who Have Won Lost Wages Can't Always Get Them Back

Driely S.

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Things have been looking up for nail salon employees since the New York Times detailed worker abuse three months ago (well, mostly). Swift measures from the government, like programs to work toward licensure and a displayed workers' bill of rights in several languages, have already gone into effect. But one crucial measure, requiring salon owners to maintain bonds that ensure lost wages are paid, doesn't go into effect until October, and the paper reports that some nail technicians looking for back pay at the moment are pretty much getting screwed.

Take Silvia Gonzalez and her daughter Martha Mendoza Gonzalez, who worked at Brooklyn's Romy Nails: After Silvia worked six years with 12-hour shifts six days a week at less than minimum wage, and Martha was publicly hassled by her boss during her pregnancy, the Federal District Court in Brooklyn ruled that owner Romelia Agudo owed the pair $200,000. Their lawyer estimates it's going to be very difficult for that amount to actually come through—seedy nail salon owners have a history of not coughing up the money. The Gonzalezes first filed suit in 2009.

Salon owners' hiding assets when being forced to pay has "really become part of the bigger practice," according to Sarah Ahn of the Flushing Workers' Center. She's been working to help several manicurists from a Long Island salon chain collect a total of $474,000 that they were court-awarded in 2012; only $110,00 has come through thus far, and records show that the salon owner had sold property worth millions of dollars while claiming not to have cash for lost wages. "It's like a chasing game," she added to the Times.

"Requiring owners to secure a wage bond will help ensure workers are paid what they are legally owed and that businesses have the funds they need to meet their financial obligations," Governor Andrew Cuomo has said in a statement regarding the new measure, for which all salons must be in compliance by October 6th. If not, salon owners could face fines or even have their businesses shut down.