Let’s say you care about the exploitation of nail salon workers. Rather than just decide to change your habits and not get your nails done or do them yourself, which does nothing to alleviate the workers’ plight, what can you do. Let me direct you to two similar statements. First, our own valued commenter Karen24:
1. Don’t use acrylic nails. Most of the health problems have been traced to the really nasty chemicals in fake nails, especially the particulates. So, just don’t.
2. Don’t go to the super cheap salons. Here in Texas, $15 is about the minimum for a manicure and $25 for a pedicure. Anything below those numbers should be suspicious.
3. Look around the place first. Does it look clean? Is there an overwhelming chemical smell? Most states — except apparently New York — require salons to be ventilated. Complain to the state board if the place is stifling. Cleanliness is a matter of customer safety, but also indicates that the salon owner is invested in keeping the place open and cares enough to follow cleaning rules. A clean salon is also an indication that the owner is hiring experienced and licensed operators. Having a license is no guarantee that the worker isn’t being exploited, but it does mean she has completed the state requirements and can get a job someplace else pretty easily. (One of the problems with the New York system is its use of apprentices, who have to work at one salon until they complete enough hours to qualify for an individual license, meaning the operator can’t leave without losing all her accumulated hours.)
4. Notice the names of the operators and notice whether the same ones are at the salon over a period of time. High turnover usually indicates that the salon owner is doing something wrong.
5. Be aware of your state’s regulatory bodies and file complaints if anything looks off. I’m not aware of any state that doesn’t have a labor board or agency regulating cosmetology, and all of ‘em should have a website that instructs consumers how to file complaints. (New York’s is terrible; but it does exist.) Note that in most states the labor board and regulatory authority are different agencies. File a complaint if anything looks like a problem. There is of course no guarantee that your complaint will lead to anything, but it is absolutely certain that nothing will happen if you don’t complain. Texas at least accepts anonymous complaints and will investigate them.
6. Tip generously, in cash.
Personal grooming is a delight, and the democratization of little luxuries like mani/ pedis is a genuine achievement. We can, with little effort, make sure that the people who provide these luxuries get to enjoy them as well.
Second, Liza Featherstone:
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.
Of course, Featherstone’s advice is largely New York based, but the principles are universal. Engaging in any of these actions will play a small role in improving the lives of workers, certainly much more so than withdrawal. Each of us can only do a little bit, with a few exceptions who can do more, but collectively we all matter if we are aiming for the same or similar goals. This is what consumer support of workers’ movements is about.