What’s Being Done to Protect Nail Salon Workers?
The New York Times recently ran a series of articles investigating the labor practices and working conditions of nail salons located in New York City and the northeastern part of the country. Although their investigation only looked at salons in a specific area, the findings of the articles were shocking enough to cause a national outcry and had people asking what can be done to better protect workers in the beauty industry.
The articles revealed that most new nail salon employees were required to pay their employer $100 or more to work for them and don’t start getting paid until their employer feels they deserve to be paid, which often takes several weeks or months. Once they start being paid, they are often paid far below minimum wage. Although it’s not illegal to pay tipped employees below minimum wage, manicurists are commonly paid less than other tipped employees in other industries. There were also allegations of wage theft, no overtime pay, physical and verbal abuse from employers, and in one case, salon employees reported being charged to drink water at the salon.
Not only do manicurists work for meager wages, they spend all day working around chemicals and other substances that can cause very long-lasting health problems. Some of the nail polishes, solvents, and glue they work with on a daily basis contain chemicals that can cause miscarriages or birth defects. These chemicals are also linked to cancer and skin problems. One salon worker interviewed for the article said that after twenty years of working with harsh solvents has almost completely removed her fingerprints. Many manicurists report having persistent coughs, sore throats, and nosebleeds. Salon workers who work with acrylic nails report having respiratory problems caused by inhaling miniscule particles of acrylic that damaged the tissues of their lungs. A doctor interviewed for the article said many manicurists who come to see him have respiratory problems you’d expect to see in smokers or asthma patients.
Although face masks and gloves are recommended for manicurists, that recommendation often goes ignored by salon owners who feel such protective gear is unattractive and would be off-putting to customers.
Many people believe federal regulations regarding cosmetics and chemical exposure in the workplace are outdated and need to be re-evaluated to keep workers safe. Cosmetics are regulated by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which says cosmetic products and ingredients don’t need pre-market approval from the FDA, except for color additives. OSHA has regulations in place regarding acceptable levels of chemical exposure in the workplace, some say that being exposed to chemical levels below OSHA’s limits can still be dangerous. Although OSHA provides information recommending safe practices for nail salons, they admit it is very difficult for them to enforce them.
In response to the articles, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a task force will be formed to improve standards for nail salons, which includes shutting down unlicensed salons and imposing stricter regulations to protect the health and safety of manicurists. Representative Kathleen Rice of New York is calling on the Obama administration to take action to make nail salons nationwide a safer place to work.