By Madina Toure
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), along with business leaders and advocacy groups have launched the Health Nail Salon Network to address illegal working conditions, an exploitable workforce and unrealistic pricing.
The heads of the Korean American Nail Association of New York, the Korean American Association of Greater New York, Asian Americans for Equality and the New York Asian Women’s Center led private meetings to determine short-term and long-term solutions since many Asian women work in these salons.
The network is calling on local, state and federal governments to dig deeper and work with nail salon businesses to determine the root cause of the practices that takes advantage of vulnerable immigrants.
“For every turn, confrontation or setback, there are opportunities to learn and to become better at what you do,” Kim said. “Those who will remain and protect the status quo by finger-pointing or picking fights will not be able to use this chance to become better businesses.”
Meng said as the daughter of Asian immigrants, she fits the profile of both a nail salon worker and a owner, but acknowledged that she benefits from the current state of the nail salon industry.
“I, like, many Americans and many New Yorkers have also been the beneficiaries of this larger systemic problem — cheaper products and services — a problem and a conversation that we are beginning here to solve,” she said.
The network was formed in response to a series of recent New York Times articles that reported on the poor working conditions in the city’s nail salons.
Meng said most of what The Times reported was accurate, but warned against generalizations.
“It’s important, as with any industry, not to just paint the entire industry with such a broad stroke so that the hardworking law-abiding owners are vilified,” she said.
This comes on the heels of a multi-agency Enforcement Task Force formed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to prevent illegal practices and unsafe working conditions in the nail salon industry.
The task force will also recover unpaid wages and shut down unlicensed businesses and businesses that do not comply with state law.
“We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The network points to business owners who intentionally exploit workers to maximize their own profits and undocumented workers who are not paid fairly.
In order for an average outer borough nail salon to fully comply with all labor and health regulations, it has to charge about 67 percent more — from $9 to $15 — for a regular manicure and 100 percent higher — from $20 to $40 — for a regular pedicure, according to Meng.
The average Manhattan salon has to charge an average of 25 percent more, from $20 to $25, for a regular manicure and 33 percent more, from $60 to $80, for a pedicure to break even as a business, she said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour