The New York Times' powerful investigation of the abuses many workers in NYC's nail salon industry endure revealed wage theft as well as unfair and unhealthy working conditions. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has rightly responded by pledging to create a task force to investigate abuses in the nearly $9 billion industry.
The Times' two-part series advised concerned consumers, in part, to "talk to your manicurist" about her working conditions. But why get her in trouble with her boss, who could be listening in? And Cuomo's task force is good -- but we shouldn't wait for it to investigate salons and come up with new rules.
NYC's well-groomed and socially responsible women could:
Support workers' groups. For example, Woodside-based Adhikaar organizes in Nepali-speaking communities and has been educating workers and consumers on health and safety problems faced by nail aestheticians. The group presses for policy changes on its own and as part of the NY Healthy Nail Salons Coalition. Adhikaar's website explains how to donate or volunteer -- its fundraising gala is on June 4, so there is plenty to do.
Pressure politicians. Contact your City Council representative and ask her (or him) to support a bill introduced earlier this month by Public Advocate Letitia James to improve the health and safety working conditions of nail salon employees.
Contact Cuomo's office, too, and praise him for responding so quickly, but pressure him to do more than create a task force. Adhikaar and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health are calling on the governor to increase the number of health and safety inspectors dedicated to this industry.
Demand nontoxic salon products. If your neighborhood salon won't switch to nontoxic polish and remover, take your business to any number of organic, toxin-free salons around the city.
Tip big! Adhikaar advises at least 20%, but remember that tip theft is also common. Tip in cash and directly into the hands of the person who helped you, so the boss won't steal it.
And, don't forget that this isn't the only exploitive industry in our fair city.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.