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California nail salon workers are no strangers to exploitation




As part of the program, Nguyen and his wife keep the front and back doors open at the nail salon for better ventilation.
As part of the program, Nguyen and his wife keep the front and back doors open at the nail salon for better ventilation.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Nail salon workers in California are also vulnerable to unfair wage practices and hazardous chemicals, according to legal experts and labor rights groups.  

A New York Times exposé published last week revealed widespread illegal and abusive treatment of nail salon workers throughout the state. The articles prompted Governor Andrew Cuomo to enact emergency protective measures, which include a new task force to investigate salons and new safety regulations.  

California rivals New York in terms of the size of the nail salon industry, which has raised questions about the work conditions here. 

To understand the ways California compares to New York, Host A Martinez spoke with Gina Zseto, a  staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, and Thu Quach, a researcher with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California

Some salons in California bare similarities to New York in terms of labor rights violations, says Szeto. 

 “[Workers] are also not provided meal and rest breaks. When they are provided rest breaks, as in New York, they’re either  forced to sit in rooms where a lot of the chemicals are stored…sometimes they have to sneak a bun or sandwich behind a garbage can or in the corner. ” said Szeto. 

Thu Quach,  who studies the health risks of nail salon environments, says a major issue is a lack of information.   

“Most of the time when we provide them [nail salon workers and owners] with education, they’re very receptive…I find that many of the workers and owners don’t know about what they’re supposed to be doing it both in terms of chemical safety and labor rights.” Said Quach.

Customers, both Szeto and Quach say, can also play a part in protecting workers by checking if salons post sign about labor laws and workers rights or observe that workers are taking breaks and eating. Employee are also more likely to keep tips if a customer gives it to them directly in cash.

Consumers can also support workers to use gloves, ask salons for safer products, and only purchase safe alternatives in stores. In Northern California, patrons can also find salons that participate in healthy nail salon programs.  

For more information on  the health, safety and rights of nail salon and cosmetology workers, visit the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative