New York Nail Salons Ordered to Pay $1.1 Million in Back Wages to Underpaid Employees

Illustration for article titled New York Nail Salons Ordered to Pay $1.1 Million in Back Wages to Underpaid Employees

Last year’s bombshell New York Times investigation on labor conditions in nail salons won both praise and criticism, the latter mostly from salon owners, who claimed the story greatly exaggerated how poorly paid many workers are. The evidence continues to show the Times series did indeed find serious flaws in the industry, including widespread underpayment of workers.


On Monday, the Times reported that according to state records, labor investigators cited more than 40 percent of salons they inspected for underpayment. Salon owners were directed to pay out a total of $1.1 million in back wages and “several hundred thousand dollars” in damages to salon employees. Some of the underpayment was severe, the paper found:

Some of the violations were egregious: One worker at a Manhattan salon was paid $30 a day for 10-hour shifts; another manicurist in Queens was paid only $200 for a 50-hour workweek; manicurists at seven salons were forced to work for no pay or had to pay salon owners a fee, ostensibly to learn the trade; several owners admitted to submitting fake payroll records in an effort to fool investigators.


At the same time, the story also found that some of the salon owners cited were people who were unfamiliar with state and city labor laws, many recent immigrants themselves:

Many owners, even some of those making efforts to pay decent wages, simply failed to grasp the technical details of state labor laws. Many salon owners, for example, seemed unaware that they must pay one full hour of bonus wages when an employee’s shift spans more than 10 hours.

Nail workers routinely work days that stretch longer than eight hours and are paid in flat daily or weekly wages, a combination that does not square with state labor laws on overtime pay and essentially guarantees a violation, even when employees are paid a rate that works out to more than the state minimum wage.

Other salon owners have said they have undocumented employees who prefer to be paid in cash, which is undoubtedly also true.

But investigators also found evidence of other illegal practices cited in the NYT series, like charging employees for supplies—gloves, nail polish—or forcing them to pay their bosses for work they performed during an “apprenticeship” period. And one woman working at New Broadway Nails was fired in retaliation for talking to state investigators, which is also very, very illegal. (New Broadway was fined $10,000 for the retaliation, according to the NYT and $5,000 for other violation, in addition to being ordered to pay $84,000 in back wages and $66,000 in damages. The salon is appealing the decision.)


Both the New York Review of Books and the libertarian magazine Reason published stories claiming the Times series was exaggerated or inaccurate; neither has mentioned the new investigation.

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Good. And, there are probably many more salons out there that need to compensate their workers retroactively.

But, funny how quickly we were able to go after nail salon owners, but major corporations, banks, investment firms can steal from us and treat workers like wage slaves for little compensation. They have created welfare states within states in some communities. Yet, they are off the hook.

If only we could get such relatively quick results for those entities that our depriving the average American of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When was the last time most of sat around and had time to think about how the hell we planned to pursue OUR happiness?

This lopsided situation is ridiculous. Maybe you’re not dealing with someone’s corn crusted toes while they obnoxiously yak on their cell, only to stop now and then to tell you she doesn’t like something; but, you may still be working in a soul sucking job so that you can keep a shared roof over your head. You still deserve a break. We all deserve a break. Serious. Why are we working 40 hours a week? Why can’t we work 32? And, get paid the same? Why can’t we make sure people have basic health, dental, mental coverage? Education? Safe neighborhoods and acceptable housing. Why can’t we ask that once you turn 18 you can choose to serve in the miliarty or something like AmeriCorps for a period. After that we pay 100% of your education.