NYC Nail Salon Scandal Highlights Larger Issues of Immigrant Exploitation

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered an emergency investigation into New York City’s nail salons following the revelation most workers are underpaid or not paid at all. The allegations also revealed the toxic chemicals nail salon workers are exposed to and the lack of basic rights employers are granting them.

nail salon new yorkIn addition to the investigation, salons must follow new rules to ensure the safety and competent pay to their workers.

A good portion of nail salon workers are immigrants, coming into the U.S. hoping for an opportunity to make more money. This means most of them do not speak any English and are not familiar with the rights workers in the U.S. have. Realizing the language barrier, Gov. Cuomo is also launching a six-language education campaign that informs the workers of their rights.

Many salon owners pay their workers under minimum wage or don’t pay them at all. Instead, workers must rely on tips from customers as their pay. Salons will also be required to pay back wages owed to workers, and if they refuse, the salon will be shut down. Salons are also now required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights; the sign will be in a half dozen languages.

As for the toxic chemicals workers are exposed to, this unfortunately is part of the job. But to combat illnesses as much as possible, workers will now be required to wear masks and gloves while working.

The investigation into NYC’s nail salons is a huge step for immigration worker reform. But it raises a bigger question. Just how many immigrant workers are being exploited for cheap pay?

The Larger Problem of Immigrant Exploitation

Right now, about 6.5 million immigrants work in the U.S. They are more susceptible to exploitation because employers can pay them “under the table” since they are undocumented. Most immigrant workers do not realize even if they are undocumented, they are protected under the same basic federal and state rights as documented workers. Immigrant workers are at risk of unpaid wages, dangerous conditions, uncompensated workplace injuries, and discrimination.

Most immigrant workers do not pursue their rights or fight against discrimination because they are illegal and are afraid they will be deported. For many immigrant workers, deportation means no hope for their families. A large portion of immigrant workers come to the U.S. to make money to send back to their families in their home countries. Without this income, even the little income they do make, immigrant families back home have very little chance of survival.

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