Nail salon workers underpaid, endure poor working conditions, UCLA study says

Jessica De Nova Image
Wednesday, March 20, 2024
Nail salon workers, endure poor working conditions, UCLA study says
The nail salon industry, made up heavily of Vietnamese women, sees many labor violations and lack of benefits, according to a UCLA study.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- California has the largest number of nail salons and licensed manicurists in the country, but labor violations continue for workers in the industry, according to a new report from the UCLA Labor Center.

These were just some of the findings of a report released this month by the UCLA Labor Center and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative- Nail Files: A Study of Nail Salon Workers and Industry in the United States.

The research helped to inform a new California bill - AB 2444 authored by Assemblymember Alex Lee.

"Our goal was ultimately to find any gaps in the research as well as identify policy needs of the sector to address inequities," said Preeti Sharma, an assistant professor of American studies at Cal State University Long Beach.

In a press conference Tuesday, former and current manicurists gave examples of the poor working conditions endured by many in the industry - one primarily made up of Vietnamese, immigrant, refugee women.

Anh Doan said she worked as a manicurist more than a decade and moved on to working with the CA Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Many people I spoke with didn't even know what paid sick leave was," Doan shared through a translator, adding, "a large portion of elderly workers, like me, have poor eyesight and are often allergic to chemicals they're exposed to in the nail work."

Joanne Nguyen said she feels lucky to be classified as a W-2 worker, but feels bad for others in the industry who are misclassified as 1099, which deprives them of some benefits like paid sick leave.

"Even though I am a W-2 worker, I know that there are many workers who are misclassified and taken advantage of because of their lack of knowledge about their workers rights," Nguyen.

Researchers said nail salon workers reported an hourly median wage of $10.94, classifying the industry as low-wage.

Some recommendations by researchers included language-appropriate labor rights education for workers and employers and education for consumers.

"Overwhelmingly, we found that 87% of consumers were willing to pay more for services if that meant providing better labor conditions," said James Hunh, a graduate student researcher with the UCLA Labor Center.

Specifically, more than half of 500 consumers surveyed online agreed to an extra $10 for their mani-pedi.

Supporters say Lee's bill seeks to address these issues with increased oversight and education for workers and employers by the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.