Earlier this year, the New York Times published a revealing expose about the grueling labor practices of New York City Nail salons in a series titled “Unvarnished.” 

Over the course of the 13-month long investigation, the NYT were able to gain startling insight into the real inner workings of the flourishing nail salon business in NYC directly from none other than the hundreds of employees who continue to keep the industry afloat. Among the most eye-opening of discoveries to come out of the research was the revelation that nail salon staffers are often paid well below minimum wage and sometimes not even paid at all for months on end aside from customer tips when they first start working.

Shortly after the NYT article was published, a NY spa owner by the name of Richard Bernstein came forward to dispute the notion that salons in NYC operate in such a way as to leave their employees overworked and underpaid. He instead defended the practices of the thriving industry and insisted that their workers are “better paid and better-regulated” than what was reported by the NYT based on their interviews with over 100 employees. The NYT has since responded to Mr. Bernstein’s rebuttal and are standing by their findings, suggesting that his view of the industry is more biased than objective because of his current position as a spa owner and also noting that his claims of their report findings being flawed were based on one isolated incident from a very detailed report. Here are a few excerpts from their rebuttal article.

Mr. Bernstein criticizes The Times for saying the “vast majority” of workers are underpaid, but our reporting supports that conclusion. He faults what he calls our “Dickensian” portrayal of the industry. We think the term is apt.

“Unvarnished” made clear that not all salon owners mistreat their workers. But the reporting showed that a great many do.

A considerable portion of Mr. Bernstein’s rebuttal is dedicated to a paragraph in Ms. Nir’s story about ads in the Chinese press that advertise jobs at strikingly low wages. Mr. Bernstein doesn’t say the ads don’t exist, just that he and his wife, both Chinese speakers, were unable to find them. He said they reviewed Chinese-language newspapers in the wake of “Unvarnished,” found no such ads, and then looked at a three-month period prior to the series’ publication.

The Times’ investigation found that it is common in the industry for manicurists just starting out in the business to be paid nothing at all for several weeks or months and even have to pay a fee to start. This was what happened to the main subject in the first article in the series, Jing Ren.

What are your thoughts on this, Clutchettes? Let us know!

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  • [email protected]

    There are disputing views. One way to get down to the truth is for an independent study or investigation to come about. What is most important is not the debate between the NYT and one owner. What is needed is to gather the facts and to enact policies that can make the nail salon business in NYC better (as we know about the economic problems in our nation).

    • Ann Gomez

      I agree

  • Myra Esoteric

    Many folks I went to college with grew up in Brooklyn and the Bronx and their moms (usually Asian) worked in nail salons. It’s not that bad. A lot of times, news articles want to take a dig at immigrants by pointing out the worst scenarios.

  • D1Mind

    One thing is certain, black people don’t own most of these salons and I would bet that if they did they wouldn’t have this issue.

    People need to remember how Asians got into the U.S. nail care industry.
    Read articles online about Tippi Hedren the person behind the rise of Vietnamese nail salons.

    This is simply an extension of the Asian domination of black beauty products in the diaspora. Sad when you consider that the concept of makeup, hair care and beauty originated in Africa in the first dam place.