How much do you tip your manicurist when you get your nails done? Considering the price of a manicure these days, most people are happy to state that they tip the recommended 20% and nothing more. But what if I told you that the young woman you barely understand who is doing your nails for that $5 tip has to live her life on only tips? What I if I told you that she is among the thousands of young immigrants that come to the United States in hopes of following her dreams and creating a better life for herself only to come to work for the many little mani/pedi shops across the country with their cheap flashing lights and quick turnaround for nothing? What if I told you that she had to pay the owner of that cheap little shop to work there and that she has to wait months while she is reviewed and her work is dissected each and every day before her boss finally decides whether or not she is good enough to keep her job and earn a real income? That’s right, ladies, this woman is paying to work at your salon and she’s not getting paid in return. She’s living only on those tips you provide for her, and she’s not living out her dreams in any way.
That’s the price of gorgeous nails these days. What was once something considered a bit high-class and elegant is now considered an everyday staple for most women. I know I think nothing of a once a week pedicure to keep my toes looking perfect and to give me a solid hour of time alone in which I can work while being worked on. What alleviates my guilt, however, is that my pedicures come straight from the spa, and while I pay a lot more for my pedicure than the women who go to the little strip mall shops with their flashing lights and “Open” signs, I’m not contributing to this mess. My money goes to a woman with training, who makes a good living wage and who enjoys her job. She works standard hours, but she’s home at a decent time each night and she has time to enjoy some coffee and her children in the mornings, as well as time off on the weekends.
Those women in those little strip mall shops, however, aren’t even making minimum wage once their bosses finally decided – after as many as three months have passed – that they are worthy of an income. They’re living well below poverty, and they’re working longer, harder and more strenuous hours than the rest of us.
Imagine working a 12 hour day painting toe nails and touching feet. Imagine doing that 7 days a week. Imagine doing that for nothing for months at a time. It doesn’t sound much like that American dream these men and women came to the states looking for, does it?
Investigative reporters at the New York Times spent some time investigating nail salons in New York City and found that there are so many wage violations occurring that it’s almost impossible to list them all. When the New York State Labor Department conducted an investigation of its own, it found that out of 29 salons investigated in the area, there were at least 150 wage violations occurring.
- Physical punishment
- Video surveillance
- Docked tips as punishment
- No payment
- Payments below minimum wage
These are just a few of the transgressions realized at these salons. In fact, think about this the next time you get a manicure or pedicure; some salon workers report that the owners of their salons don’t even pay them on days when business is slow, despite the fact that they were present for a good 12 hours. Additionally, they are forced to bring their own equipment, it’s not even provided for them. And finally, a number of salons reported that when the owners did begin paying their employees, their hourly wage was approximately $1.50 per hour – and those employees worked 66+ hours per week. That’s $99 per week income. That’s less than $400 per month in New York City, where even the smallest and most disgusting of rentals is often over $1000 per month.
One woman let reporters into her home, which is a small studio apartment that she shares with four other people. Five beds are stacked and crammed into one room with shower curtains separating each one for privacy. The apartment is littered with roaches and there is not enough space for anything but the beds these five people use. It’s meager and it’s sad, but it’s the only way she can afford to live in the city based on her income and her job. The problem, however, is that she is an illegal immigrant with no way to legalize her status in the states. This is a combination that leaves her stuck in her current predicament.
What does this all mean for us?
Well, while you might be thrilled about the concept of getting a pedicure for $25 and a manicure for $20 when the local spa charges at least $60 just for a pedicure, you’re contributing to the abuse of the workers here. The lesson to be learned is this; when you go somewhere for a luxury treatment that costs next to nothing, you’re likely contributing to the criminal behavior of those who own the salon, and the destitution of those who work there.
Do yourself a favor and to this industry a favor; either skip the manis and pedis all together or go somewhere with reasonable prices and men and women who are getting paid. The spa is a nice place to go, because you can guarantee that the people here are being paid what they are worth, and they’re able to live comfortably.
The price we pay to have nice nails is a high one; and most of us have no idea we are paying that kind of price.
Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for butter LONDON