Nail Salon Workers come together
In the summer of 2015, The New York Times published an account of the nail salon industry by journalist Sarah Maslin Nir. “Unvarnished,” exposed the hardworking and exploitative conditions endured by many nail salon workers. Exploitation of immigrant workers, wage theft, unhealthy working environments were just some of the situations described in the two-part investigative report. The exposé sparked many reactions in the community. Once the seal of silence was broken, nail salon workers started to raise their voices and look for ways to fix the many problems they face in the workplace.
“It’s not only about our lives, but also the owners’ and those of clients. I love my work, but no money in the world pays for health problems.” María Cajero, nail salon worker, New York City.
Workers coming together first focused on the rampant wage theft and the chemicals they inhaled every day. Soon afterward, workers realized the heart of the problem is a labor dispute with their employers. So, the Workers United New York-New Jersey Joint Board started to work with nail salon workers.Workers United and the New York Committee for Occupational Health & Safety (NYCOSH) partnered to provide workshops focused on health & safety, wage & hour, and workers’ rights. Ultimately, Nail Salon workers in New York teamed up with both organizations to develop the first non-propriety entity school for nail technicians to get certified for their technician’s license. By the time Nir was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of New York City’s nail salon industry, workers’ concerns had reached elected officials at the state level.
“The truth is that I needed a wage increase to make ends meet, to pay the rent, utility bills, my kids and above all, I had to take care of my mom, who was very sick. In the end, my mom died, and the owner never had any compassion for my situation.” Reina Sierra, nail salon worker, New York City.
State legislation tackled workers’ early concerns implementing wage bonds for nail salons to prevent wage theft. More notably, in the next five years, all nail salons in the state must comply with a ventilation regulation that ensures employees don’t spend long work hours inhaling chemicals that result in serious illness, from asthma to miscarriage. These legislative victories, which happened despite staunch opposition from nail salon business associations, emboldened salon workers. Mostly immigrant women from Latin America and Asia, employees at nail salons know firsthand how joining together and fighting to improve your workplace yields positive change.
More than 500 nail salon technicians have joined together in the NY Nail Salon Workers Association. The benefits of being part of this association are not limited to having your voice heard in the governor’s office but also professional development through preparatory courses for the nail technician’s license. Association members also attend 8 hours of Know Your Rights Training’s, including, health-and-safety and wage-and-hour, for the purpose of improving their knowledge of their rights in the workplace and in their communities. One of the most successful workshops explains what workers can achieve if they join together in a union at their workplace.
“We are fighting to change an industry of abuse and low wages into an industry of dignity and justice.” Araceli Ramirez, nail salon worker, New York City.
These inspiring nail salon workers, many of which are immigrant women, are standing together in the NY Nail Salon Workers Association are committed to consolidating the victories they have already achieved, ensuring that all nail salons have proper ventilation systems and employees are paid for the hours they work. They are committed to making respect and justice standard features in their workplace. They are committed to transforming an industry they love but also endure.
Consumers can help transform the nail salon industry into a just, sustainable, and healthy one by standing in solidarity with immigrant workers, the majority Latinx and Asian women, who deserve dignity, health and justice.
What can I do as a consumer?
The first thing you can do is respect and support worker organizing and the second thing you can do is to become an educated nail salon customer. Read more at http://nyhealthynailsalons.org/for-consumers/