Adhikaar Releases Groundbreaking Survey of Nail Salon Workers, Highlighting Challenges in Labor, Health, and Safety to be Addressed by the Governor’s Plan

N.Y. State and City Nail Salon Measures to be Guided by Workers’ Participatory,
On-the-Ground Research


May 20, 2015

New York, NY — On Wednesday, May 20, Adhikaar for Human Rights and Social Justice (Adhikaar) will release the findings of its groundbreaking report Behind the Polish: Experiences of Nepali-Speaking Nail Salon Workers in New York City, documenting the experiences of a burgeoning community of nail salon workers. The report, based on the survey of 198 Nepali-speaking workers and four focus group discussions, documents long hours, low pay, health and safety risks, as well as the language and immigration barriers to nail specialty licensing.

Governor Cuomo’s legislative and regulatory plan, announced on Monday, incorporated the reform priorities and solutions Adhikaar proposed as a result of its years-long participatory research into all aspects of nail salon workers’ experiences for this report. The workers’ center trained Nepali-speaking nail salon workers in a series of popular education workshops on developing and fielding a survey, which the workers then conducted between 2011 and 2014.

Among the key findings of Adhikaar’s pioneering report include:
97 percent of nail salon workers are paid a flat rate that is as low as $30 per day, with most workers making a total of between $40 and $70 per day.

  • Workers labored in nail salons anywhere between 45 and 84 hours a week.
  • Most workers responded that their break time was not fixed or regular, but rather taken when and if customer inflow was lower, usually 20 to 30 minutes when they could find the time
  • Only 6 percent of workers responded that the salon they are employed in has vented nail tables, and only 20 percent said that the salon had a shop ventilation system as opposed to simply a ceiling fan or windows that open.
  • More than half of the workers surveyed reported that they began experiencing health problems after starting to work at a nail salon. The most common symptoms are eye irritation (37 percent), allergies (33 percent), and headache (33 percent).
  • 30 percent did not get sick days; of those who did get sick days off, not a single worker was entitled to a paid sick day.
  • More than 1 in 10 workers had to work while they were sick, and 4 out of 10 workers worked with clients who were sick with a cold, flu, cough or other similar symptoms.
  • Only 8 percent of respondents always wore gloves and 7 percent always wore masks. Of those who used gloves and masks, 25 percent had to buy their own gloves and 70 percent had to buy their own masks.
  • More than one out of four workers said that they did not have access to the salon’s first aid kit.
  • Only 17 percent of those surveyed said they were able to obtain a permanent nail license. Forty-eight (48) percent said their limited English proficiency was the reason they did not seek a license. Fourteen (14) percent said that they did not seek a license due to immigration status and 11 percent said that they didn’t know how to procure a license.

“The report is a stark reminder of the deeply entrenched practices in the industry that have denied nail salon workers safe and dignified conditions for far too long. Adhikaar applauds the Governor for acting decisively to address the most egregious conditions in the nail salon industry,” said Luna Ranjit, Executive Director of Adhikaar. “The public support for these measures has been overwhelming, and so we look forward to the swift passage of the legislative package.”

Behind the Polish also presents Adhikaar’s policy recommendations to improve the well-being of workers and create a healthier nail salon industry. They include strengthening regulations to prohibit the use of toxic chemicals; requiring employers to undergo health and safety and workers’ rights training; creating a language-accessible tip line for workers to report health, safety or labor violations in salons; and removing language and immigration status barriers to nail specialty licensing.

Of the respondents, a majority of the Nepali-speaking nail salon workers (84 percent of the respondents) emigrated from Nepal, 13 percent came from Tibet, and 2 percent from India. More than 8 out of 10 respondents had lived in the United States for fewer than 10 years; 42 percent had lived in the US for three years or less, and about 12 percent came to this country less than one year earlier.

“We are particularly excited by Governor Cuomo’s efforts to improve language access to licensing exams for our members—Nepali and Tibetan workers—and to create an apprenticeship program to make licenses easier to obtain, which will help protect vulnerable workers and provide better job opportunities,” added Ranjit. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor to put the plan into action.”

Adhikaar has been organizing nail salon workers since 2005, and is a co-founder and co-leader of the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition with the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH). Adhikaar has conducted health and safety training for nail salon workers in Nepali and translated OSHA handbook for nail salon workers into Nepali. Earlier this year, Adhikaar created Healthy Salons for All, an educational poster in five languages (English, Nepali, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese) targeting nail salon workers and customers in partnership with the Center for Urban Pedagogy and designers from Welcome Workshop. The poster may be downloaded for free here.

Adhikaar, meaning “rights,” is a women-led non-profit organizing Nepali-speaking communities to take collective action against injustice through organizing, community education, grassroots advocacy and leadership development.

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