Nail salons: NYC women weigh options after report of associated wage theft, chemical hazards

Many NYC women have been wondering what how and whether to alter a cherished bi-weekly pampering ritual in the wake of a New York Times report that exposed how many city nail salons commit wage theft and subject employees to long hours of exposure to dangerous chemicals,

“I don’t know how to change my behavior — they need to change the regulations!” said Sarah Sebbagh, 26, who lives on the Upper West Side.

A polished appearance, which includes bright, laminated fingernails, is de rigueur for her job as a Wall Street trader, explained Sebbagh, who had no intention of foregoing her $10 manicures for which she gives a $3 tip.

Nail technicians need to have fixed wages, or a work on a combination of wages and commissions, and “all tips should go to the person who does the job,” Sebbagh said. NYC is internationally famous for incredibly cheap manicures, noted Sebbagh, who is originally from Morocco. “In France, it’s 50 euros (about $56) for a mani-pedi,” she said.

Angela Jordan, 53, a purchasing agent from Nanuet said she “probably” will abandon acrylic nails and go natural, if only for her own health.

“There’s always that cancer thing in the back of my mind,” she said. Jordan had read disturbing stories about the potentially carcinogenic effects of the U.V. lights used to cure acrylics and was also distressed to hear that women were paid differently by some salon owners depending on their ethnicity. “As a black woman, I’m familiar with racism,” and did not want to support businesses with racist practices, she said.

Akia Ridley, 30, planned to have a conversation with her much adored nail technician of 10 years to see if she was able to keep the $7 to $10 tips she gives on her $30 acrylics. She planned to tell her: “I’m giving you this tip for you to KEEP it” without kicking anything back to salon management.

Ridley, who lives in Flatbush and supervises house cleaners who make $10 an hour, said what many people in NYC make “is just not enough.”

She had noticed a few things that seemed odd at her Flatbush salon — a technician insisting that her apron full of singles were not her tips and women leaving the salon en masse in the same car late at night — that made her think their lives might be harder than she knew. Nail technicians “work a lot of hours,” and deserve overtime wages, she said.

But credentialing manager and DIYer Lisa Tamzrian, 51, was ethically unperturbed. “I do my own,” said the Bensonhurst mom. “I prefer it that way and it’s cheaper.” When Tamzrian wants a pedicure, she and her 24-year-old daughter have a mutually beneficial arrangement that doesn’t exploit anyone: “I do her toes and she does mine.”

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