Asking the general public to find out whether the workers in their local salon are being mistreated is lazy and potentially dangerous
Following a harrowing investigative piece on the New York Times back in May, officials in New York have finally implemented new laws following a long period of investigation into the conditions of its 2000+ nail and beauty salons across the city. Although the article helped bring this issue to light, the methods in which New York are actually tackling the salons seem to be a short term fix for a long-term problem. Shouldn't more be done for such an important, public-facing issue?
The hugely shared article describes some salon workers earning just $30 (£20) per day – if they were paid at all – as well as enduring physical abuse, and living in flophouse-style apartments crammed with bunkbeds for other workers. One manicurist was charged $270 (£177) for splashing nail polish remover on a customer’s shoes – and then fired.
In light of the outcry, new rules have been set in place to combat the situation. From now on every salon must display a set of placards available in over ten languages in the windows of their premises to remind workers of their rights in terms of health and safety, wages and working hours and to remind salon owners and customers of the regulations.
As well as these placards, the new policy also contains a list of questions customers are supposed to ask the member of staff doing your nails, to find out first-hand if the salon you frequent is legit. These questions – that customers are encouraged to exclaim upon entering a New York nail salon – include: “Are workers paid at least the minimum wage or overtime?” and “Is there appropriate equipment provided to worked and used?”
For such a strong campaign to end the misery in these salons, this approach seems pretty weak. Walk into a place of business and demand personal information from the staff before you sit down for your treatment? Who’s going to do that?
If anything, the New York Times piece brought to light that the men and women who work in the city’s nail salons were blackmailed, bullied and constantly reminded that their jobs, livelihoods and families were in jeopardy. Is some middle–class woman strutting into a salon and demanding information on the health and safety standards and wages of employees going to help the workers when they’d be fired instantly for providing that information? Perhaps not.
Also, what are the odds of that person actually taking action if they hear something untoward? Are they going to spend hours trying to get hold of Governor Cuomo to report what they have heard, or just leave and wander off to a different salon to get the treatment they set out to have in the first place?
Rather than leaving this problem to the general public to sort out, perhaps New York should be investigating this as thoroughly as health inspections in restaurants, or underage drinking in bars. One thing the placard does is suggest a phone number to call if nail salon workers suspect the salon mistreating them, but so far there is no information as to what action would be taken once that call has been made.
Props to Governor Cuomo for putting serious hours into a really important and rarely discussed issue. But is this just a quick solution that, in the end, might actually make the situation even worse?
What do you think? Get in touch.