Nail Salon Sweeps in New York Reveal Abuses and Regulatory Challenges – NY Times

When a New York State labor investigator entered a Long Island nail salon last July, she spotted two women sneaking out the back. The owner insisted that they did not work there.

But the truth emerged several days later, when one of the women called the investigator and said her boss had told her to flee so she could not be interviewed about her wages. When the investigator returned to the salon, American Beauty, in Port Washington, N.Y., she was surprised when the owner lied to her again about the woman.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this,’” the investigator, Cecilia J. Maloney, recalled.

Labor investigators have swept through nail salons across the state since May, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered them to step up their scrutiny of the industry in response to a series of articles in The New York Times that revealed abysmal pay and working conditions among nail salon workers.

From a regulatory perspective, the results of the inspections seem to tell a straightforward story of widespread abuses. Although the state’s plans to crack down on the industry were highly publicized, all but a dozen of the 230 salons whose investigations were closed by late last year were cited for violating at least one labor law.

The Labor Department cited more than 40 percent of the salons, including American Beauty, for underpaying employees, directing them to pay $1.1 million in back wages and several hundred thousand dollars in damages, according to a review by The Times of closed investigations. Some violations were egregious: One worker at a Manhattan salon was paid $30 a day for 10-hour shifts; another manicurist in Queens was paid only $200 for a 50-hour workweek; manicurists at seven salons were forced to work for no pay or had to pay salon owners a fee, ostensibly to learn the trade; several owners admitted to submitting fake payroll records in an effort to fool investigators.

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