Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘workplace ethics’

Your Manicurist is Likely Being Paid Illegal Starvation Wages

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Ariel ZiontsAfter investigating 150 nail salons over 13 months, New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir found that “manicurists are routinely underpaid and exploited, and endure ethnic discrimination and other abuse.” The findings are presented in a long-form multimedia story and offered in English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.

Nir followed manicurists who, after leaving their cramped living arrangements, hop into vans that shuttle them to nail salons in the city and even into different states. When they first begin work, many are forced to pay a training fee of around $100-$200, sometimes more. Many remain unpaid during an “apprenticeship period” until they can prove they are skilled enough to deserve payment, but this payment is usually below minimum wage.

Twenty-one-year-old Jing Ren’s story illustrates this process. She paid $100 in a training fee, then worked three months without pay before earning a wage of less than $3 an hour.

Because nail salon workers are considered “tipped workers” under state and federal labor laws, they can be paid below the state’s $8.25 minimum wage; employers are required to make up the remainder of the worker’s pay if their hourly rate comes out to below minimum wage. The investigation found that bosses rarely provide that legally mandated supplemental pay. Overtime pay is similarly rare for manicurists, who may work up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Nir also found that manicurists’ pay is often taken away for minor transgressions. When 47-year-old Qing Lin spilled a drop of nail polish remover on a client’s Prada sandals, she was forced to pay for damages and fired from the salon she worked at for 10 years. “I am worth less than a shoe,” she stated.

Pay also can correlate to ethnicity. Nir found that Koreans are paid the most, followed by Chinese and Latino workers. Non-Korean workers Nir spoke with are sometimes prohibited from speaking and forced to eat in a separate location. Other documented abuses include workers being monitored on video, physical and verbal abuse and poor safety standards that lead to cancer and miscarriages caused by exposure to chemicals and dust.

Nail salon owners are rarely investigated or punished for their labor violations. New York’s Department of Labor investigates a few dozen—around 1%—of the over 3,600 salons in the state per year. When investigated, the department finds wage violations 80 percent of the time. The Times said all but three of the more than 100 workers they interviewed have had wages withheld in illegal ways.

Because many manicurists are undocumented and are often unaware of labor laws and speak limited English, many do not report on their bosses’ illegal activities.

Nir is hosting a Facebook chat on Monday, May 11 at 1 PM EST. Participants are asked to submit questions ahead of time. If you want an ethical manicure, the Times has tips on that.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on May 7, 2015. Reposted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Ariel Zionts. Arielle Zionts is a Spring 2015 In These Times editorial intern and freelance reporter. In August she will join the Interfaith Voices radio show as a producer. She studied anthropology at Pitzer College and radio at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Arielle loves to ride her bike and listen to public radio. She tweets at @ajzionts and her website is ariellezionts.com.

2009 Labor Day

Monday, September 7th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

When I was growing up Labor Day was the most, maybe the only, sacred holiday of the year. My parents were both ardent labor union activists. My mom was a member of Local 1199 in NY – the health care workers union. She worked in a pharmacy and that was the union for workers there. My dad was a member of District 65 which was then part of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Workers Union – he was a camera salesman. They both served as shop stewards during my childhood and I think before I was born they both held other positions in their unions with more responsibilities.

My parents met at an event my mother’s union was holding. They were showing a film and my father was hired as the projectionist, in the days before you could just slip a DVD into a computer to watch a film. I don’t know too much about their courtship, but their union came about because of union activities. I’m pretty sure that is not a unique situation.

I grew up going to Labor Day parades in NY – my stroller covered with streamers. I was so pleased when I got to be in a parade as a union member myself. It was 198? , the year that Reagan went all out to destroy PATCO. I belonged to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3; I worked for a cable television company.

For this Labor Day, I’ll be going to a rally in Boston Common which will both celebrate labor, and the need of all people to have good health care.

The issues that arise on Labor Day are so closely related to an Ethical Culture view of the world. In Ethical Culture we follow the Kantian notion that all people are ends in and of themselves. We attribute worth and treat them with dignity and respect just because we are people. And here’s the part that’s most related to labor issues – we do not use people as means to reach our own ends. Seems to me that point has been missed by lots of people in the corporate and business world. I’m glad to say that there are also many who bring a very ethical and caring approach to their endeavors, there are those who form cooperatives, there are those who consider others and the natural world around them as they conduct their business.

But there are also many who see a business primarily as an opportunity to use the labor of others to make a lot of money for themselves. When workers join together in unions they have a chance to have greater influence on their working conditions, on how much they are paid for their work and what benefits they receive. The share holders of a corporation are very much like a “union” of business owners, looking out for what is best for them.

Corporations do not have to jump through hoops to organize the people with an interest in the profits of the corporation. Yet, others, workers, often do need to jump through hoops, or around other obstacles to be able to organize in labor unions. Even though workers, employees of a corporation also have an interest in the success of a business, they are not usually allowed to have input into the decision making which affects the business, and certainly not into the decision making which affects them directly.

Labor unions have been successful in providing a strong voice for employees, both on an individual level and on issues of local and national importance. At a time when unemployment levels in this country are incredibly high, I seeit as especially important that workers can organize for good working conditions. While many might say this is a time when businesses can’t afford to accommodate unions, I see it as a time when even more attention needs to be paid to not taking advantage of people – workers- not using people as a means for creating profit for some, but not for the people doing the work. As I understand it, the Employee Free Choice Act is a bill which would create a fairer process for union organizing. You can find out more about it in the Ethical Action section of the newsletter.

What is your experience with labor unions? How do you see a connection between Ethical Culture and Labor Day or labor issues?

About the Author: Susan Rose is the leader of Ethical Society Without Walls.

This article originally appeared in Ethical Society Without Walls on September 5, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog