New York City Nail Salons—Workers are Getting Clipped

May 12th, 2015

I always wondered why manicures and pedicures in New York City are so cheap.  Everything else in the city costs a fortune and yet you can easily find a mani/pedi for $18.

If it costs $25, you may think you’ve paid too much.

I used to think this service was so cheap because there is a nail salon on every corner in NYC.  That still doesn’t make sense, however, since rent in New York City is much higher than in other places in the country and yet the prices for these services are only slightly less elsewhere.  Overall, it seems like an industry whose product remains incredibly inexpensive anywhere you go.

Now I know what’s going on thanks to (of all sources) the New York Times which ran a piece a few days ago exposing the horrible working conditions for the women doing these jobs. Evidently, things are so bad that Governor Andrew Cuomo is now taking emergency measures to help protect these women by putting strict rules in place and finding ways to inform them of their rights.

While I’m not big on more government, I do support efforts to protect people who are vulnerable to abuse, particularly when it comes to health and safety.

And when it comes to the nail salon business, I’ve actually seen some of the abuses myself.  In some cases, I’ve watched women working so fast that it looks like they might faint while a gruff manager barks orders at them.  These women probably get fifteen minutes for lunch or a break (if that). Also, I can’t imagine what it’s like to work around chemicals all day long. Monica was an environmental attorney earlier in her career, and she’s told me that she’s seen hazardous waste sites contaminated with acetone.  Yes, acetone, the substance in nail polish remover.

One wonders why these women would work in such dreadful conditions.  One possibility is that they’re working here illegally in which case I don’t have much sympathy for them.  You shouldn’t work here illegally.  Trust me, I get it if you live in an oppressive country where the economy is bad, you want to make a better life for yourself. Still, that situation unfortunately applies to millions of people worldwide, many who might happily relocate to the United States if given the chance.  Unfortunately, we can’t take everyone in such circumstances so we have a process in place to decide who works here.  That should be respected.

My suspicion given the types of women who tend to work in such places is that it’s not an illegal working situation at all.  Instead, it may be that these nail technicians are caught in family and community circumstances that make them traumatized and afraid to try to do anything else. This is tragic, but it can be overcome.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but it can be done.  And this applies to most people.  If you’re completely unhappy or caught in a dead end (or underpaid) job, find another one.  If you don’t know the language, learn it.  If you don’t have a skill that’s paying, find a way to learn a new skill and thus get a better paying job.  There are numerous government agencies, private centers, and churches willing to help.

Whatever advice and support you need, go for it.  But remember that ultimately you are in control of your own destiny.  You have to make it happen for yourself.

The nail technicians have a chance and they need to know that no one has a right to abuse them, exploit them, and push them around.  It’s never too late for them to nail the creeps who’ve taken advantage of them and polish up what’s left of their working lives.