Nail salons in NYC: brutal sweatshops


“In interviews, many owners expressed a vision of themselves as heroic, shouldering the burden of training workers and the risk of employing people who are not legally permitted to work in the United States.”

But of course if they only hired people who could legally work and didn’t require training, they’d have to pay them a hell of a lot more. Funny how that works out.


On Long Island we have cheap nail shops too. I know that my manicurist lives with her husband in her own apartment. She has very good English and I know enough about her life to tell she has some independence, but I don’t know about the new people that frequently show up in these places and speak very little English. The manicurists all ride together in a van out from Jamaica Queens- over an hour drive.I have used three different shops here and they all have this same setup with a van that drives everyone out from Queens each day.

I talked with one manicurist who really wanted to move out of Queens, and I gathered that the main barrier for her to move away was the strong Chinese immigrant community she lived in. Even though she dreamed of owning her own home, she was not a very good English speaker and I think she relied heavily on her Chinese speaking neighbors and co-workers. Even though our area has a lot of Asian people, they are all professionals (doctors, scientists) and I don’t think she would feel that comfortable here. It was definitely possible for her to move, but I don’t know that she would have been able to live so independently.

I have long suspected that these shops are a front for the Chinese mafia so they could launder money. I have never been able to figure out otherwise how the owners could afford the up front investment in all the chairs. I noticed at one place that sometimes some tough looking men would come around and they would be looking at chairs and the next time I’d come in there would be more chairs. However, just because someone looks “tough” doesn’t make them a mafioso. I found it strange that someone who was not part of the usual group would be there and involved in their business; the tough looking man acted more like an owner than a sales person. I saw him in there a couple of times, usually right before some upgrade.

I asked one shop owner (actually it was her husband who owns the shop, even though she was the one with perfect English who did all the work) why she owned a shop so far from where she lived, and got a racist rant about some of the black people who want their nails done in Jamaica Queens and all the tricks they’d pull to get out of paying. It didn’t completely explain why they owned a shop so far out from where they lived - they could easily have had a shop in Naussau County much closer to Queens. I suspect the nominal owners don’t have much control over where the shops get set up, but that being on Long Island was seen as a privilege. I’ve tried for a long time to figure out what is going on with these businesses and whether the people who work for them get to keep their tips.

It’s all speculation, though.


Better Call Saul!

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Eschew regulation and exploit workers to enrich yourself while paying as little as possible, all the while praising yourself for being a moral guiding light and invaluable job creator? Sounds like they’re living the American dream!


My mother lives in Florida. Two of her friends lost toes due to infections they claim they got at nail salons. They may be cutting corners on more than the help.

Roy Batty: That’s what it is to be a slave, live in fear…

What was that about Asian criminal stereotypes in Daredevil? Or is that only a problem when they’re fictional?

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