New York City's cheap manicures are big business, but manicurists earn criminally low wages while being charged fees to learn the trade.
If you've ever had your nails done in Manhattan, or even walked by the bright storefront of a nail salon in the New York Metro area, you get the sinking suspicion that something is going on inside. Something vile and unsettling and so frighteningly obvious that it can't be true. Well, The New York Times has confirmed your worst fears, and the details put any of your crappy jobs to shame.
Pay is virtually non-existant. Typically, beginners are forced to pay around $100 a day in cash to the owners of the salon, but they keep their meager tips. The owners say this is for the privilege of learning on the job, but unlike a school, it's up to the salon owner to determine when you are done "learning." It's like a paid internship, but in reverse! And if you complain, you could be sent to another country. So, not like that paid internship at Viacom at all, really.
The bullshit rolls downhill.
Owners of nail salons are often immigrants themselves, and are celebrated in their communities as successful businesspeople. However, owners often run their nail salons like miniature dictators. Workers are routinely docked in pay for minor infractions. Nail salons are also covered in hidden cameras that feed directly to the owners phones and tablets, so they can monitor the workers from their Mercedes SUV. Its not uncommon for salon owners to buy large houses and cram as many workers as possible into subterranean floors as "tenants." They even assign you a different, American name so you won't make the Astors or the Rockefellers uncomfortable with your ugly, foreign identity.
Salon owners also impose a racial caste system amongst the workers. Primarily, Korean owners of the salons will give the important work to young, beautiful Korean women. At the very bottom of the caste system are Hispanic women. The workers who are at the bottom of the caste are often cruelly treated by everyone. One Ecuadorean worker alleged she had to remain completely silent for her entire 12-hour work day. The Hispanic workers are often given the jobs no one else wants to do, particularly the skin-crawling, stomach-churning work of men's pedicures.
Mal Sung Noh, the owner of a nail salon in New York and money-gargling ghoul, said of Hispanic women, “They don't want to learn more."
Maybe they would learn, if it didn't cost extra.
Just like the price list that hangs in the salon, there is a price list for the workers if they want to learn. If they want to wax or polish or buff the sallow, decrepit bodies of Manhattan's elite, workers have to pay more of their own money for the education.
Ultimately, the reason workers are so mistreated is because of their citizenship. Workers are nearly all illegal immigrants. They have no resources for justice, few advocates, and nothing but obstacles in their way. If any of us spoiled New Yorkers with freshly lacquered nails had to face a workplace this abusive, we would never stop crying.
If you absolutely have to get your nails groomed by another person so you can zone out on a recliner-mounted iPad, at least consider a generous tip. Or just set yourself on fire, you monsters.