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Congresswoman Grace Meng

Representing the 6th District of New York

Introducing the Healthy Nail Salon Network

May 18, 2015
Press Release
For the first time since being placed under the microscope, New York nail
salon owners addressed the core problems that exist at the establishments they operate.
The owners were joined by New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), U.S.
Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Queens), and business leaders and advocacy groups
from across New York City to launch the “Healthy Nail Salon Network”. The immediate fixes
and long-term solutions from this network comes on the heels of many private meetings led
by the Korean American Nail Association of New York, the Korean American Association of
Greater New York, Asian Americans for Equality, and The New York Asian Women’s Center.
The meetings were held in the wake of the New York Times, followed by other media,
reporting on practices in New York’s salon industry.
 
These efforts were led by Mr. Sang-Ho Lee, President of the Korean American Nail
Association of New York; Ms. Minsun Kim, President of the Korean American Association of
Greater New York; Chris Kui, Executive Director of Asian Americans for Equality; and Larry
Lee, Executive Director of The New York Asian Women’s Center.
 
After recent reports by the New York Times on the poor working conditions at the nail salons
in the New York City area, the Governor has taken various measures to address problems
related to health or labor violations. To be proactive, this network today is requesting the
local, state, and federal governments to dig deeper and work with the nail salon businesses
in getting to the root of the problem:
 
1. Bad Players: Just like any other industry, there are business owners who are intentionally
exploiting workers to maximize their own profit and will cut every corner, including violating
health codes. These bad players contribute to the pricing gaps and to the exploitation of
workers.
 
2. Exploitable Workforce: There is a demand for cheap labor but a scarcity of documented
workers who are willing to work for minimum wage in nail salons. As a result, just like many
service-oriented industries, there are thousands of undocumented workers in the nail salon
industry who are not paid fairly. These workers are particularly vulnerable since most of
them seek positions that do not require them to be on-record and prefer to be paid in cash.
 
3. Pricing Gaps: The pricing of manicures and pedicures do not match the actual cost to
produce those services in NYC. In order for an average Manhattan-based nail salon to fully
comply with all labor and health regulations, that business must charge an average of 25%
higher (from $20 to $25) for a regular manicure and 33% higher (from $60 to $80) for a
pedicure to break even as a business. For an outer-borough nail salon, they must charge
about 67% higher (from $9 to $15) for a regular manicure and 100% higher (from $20 to
$40) for a regular pedicure. As long as customers continue to seek nail salons with cheaper
prices, the market will always race to the bottom, creating more illegal labor practices and
making it impossible for good players to survive.
 
Led by the Korean American Nail Salon Association, who represents the interest of more
than 3,000 nail salon businesses in New York, nail salons will take immediate action by:
 
1. Working closely with the United States Department of Labor, New York Governor’s Task
Force on Nail Salons and New York City Department of Consumer Affairs;
 
2. Creating a “code of conduct for nail salons” manual with the Department of Labor that
promotes inter-community growth;
 
3. Posting a state-certified “good business” label that nail salons can display on stores for
being in compliance with health and labor practices; and
 
4. Collaborating with community-based groups like Asian Americans for Equality, Make the
Road, and The New York Asian Women’s Center to address the challenges in our
community like hiring undocumented workers, finding quality job placements for immigrants
and fixing pricing gaps of nail salon products.
 
“As a son of immigrant parents who once operated nail salons in Manhattan, I’ve seen first
hand the challenges for both owners and workers at these businesses,”
stated Assemblyman Ron Kim. “I believe we need go beyond the punitive sanctions
against these community-based small businesses in order to actually address the core
problems behind these stores. We need to educate the owners and workers of their rights
and we need the consumers to accept the higher pricing points of an average manicure and
pedicure in this state. The business leaders in our community has stepped up to these
challenges and are willing to find ways to transform the nail salon industry so everyone,
from customer to manicurist, can co-exist in a safe and fair environment.”
 
Congresswoman Grace Meng stated: “The solutions laid out today to fix the problems that
exist at nail salons are critical to ensuring that the nail salon industry is operating above
board and not violating the rights of workers. Nail salons, just like all other small business,
play an important role in our city’s economy, and increasing education and creating
measures like ‘good business’ labels and a code of conduct, are key improvements to
making sure these establishments are successful while not violating health or labor laws.
Although challenges exist, I believe that progress can be made, and I thank the industry’s
stakeholders and advocacy groups for stepping up to the plate to address these problems
head-on. I also thank the New York Times and other media for shedding light on the
practices that exist in the nail salon industry as well as all the organizations that worked
tirelessly to help make the new Healthy Nail Salon Network possible. In addition to the
groups listed below, I want to thank the National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), New York Healthy
Nail Salon Coalition and Adhikaar for their years of work on this issue.”
 
Sang-Ho Lee, President of Korean American Nail Association of New York, stated: “As the
leading organization that represents over 3,000 nail stores in New York, we are committed
to working with our elected officials and government agencies to fix short-term issues and
long-term problems facing nail salons. We have a number of challenges ahead of us but
thousands of immigrant workers depend on us getting this right.”
 
Minsun Kim, President of Korean American Association of Greater New York, stated: “I look
forward to making sure that the Healthy Nail Salon Network will offer real solutions through
a collaborative effort between government agencies, elected officials, business leaders, and
nonprofit organizations. We have an opportunity to lead by example.”
 
Christopher Kui, Executive Director of Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), stated: "AAFE
has worked closely with immigrant communities for over 40 years. We are committed to
working with City and State agencies as well as our elected officials to provide in-depth
language sensitive training and education to workers to ensure their rights and to owners of
their legal responsibilities so that immigrant-run can continue to thrive in New York City.
AAFE is also committed to working with the State in exploring more efficient and fair ways
to certify nail technicians, preventing immigrant workers from further exploitation."
 
Larry Lee, the executive director of the New York Asian Women’s Center stated: “The
Governor and Mayor are acting swiftly to protect nail salon workers. But, they and other
elected officials must address the aftermath of their actions. Otherwise, for many
thousands of nail salon workers, the solution may be even worse than the problem. Most of
these workers are impoverished, undocumented, have a high school diploma or less, and
can’t hold a conversation in English. We urge the Governor and Mayor to help these
immigrants by providing funds to tide them over, vocational training, job placement and
English lessons.”