Korean nail salon owners fuming over New York Times report about worker abuses

May 11, 2015
Photo of a nail salon unrelated to the story (Photo courtesy of C-Monster via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Photo of a nail salon unrelated to the story (Photo courtesy of C-Monster via Flickr/Creative Commons)

NEW YORK, May 11 (Yonhap) — South Korean owners of nail salons in New York are fuming over a New York Times report about worker abuses at their shops, claiming the story unfairly portrayed Korean-run salons by highlighting problems at a small number of shops.

Lee Sang-ho, head of the Korean nail salon owners’ association, said he plans to ask the newspaper to run a corrective story, stressing that most Korean-run shops are not engaged in racial discrimination, wage theft and other abuses reported by the newspaper.

“We are strongly protesting that (the newspaper) looked into only about 150 salons, which is an extremely small part of a total of some 6,000 shops, and carried a biased report that only highlighted extremely bad parts about them,” Lee told Yonhap News Agency and Yonhap News TV.

Of the total, about half or some 3,000 salons are run by Koreans, Lee said.

“Most Korean-run businesses are not engaged in such nonsense things as racial discrimination and ethnic caste system,” he said. “We’re going to send a protest letter to the New York Times and officially ask for an apology about that.”

Lee also stressed that his association organizes regular meetings twice a year to provide members with education about chemicals and worker treatment. About 1,300 Korean-run nail shops have membership with the association, Lee said.

In a lengthy, two-part story, the newspaper reported last week that manicurists at nail salons are being exploited, most of them receiving lower wages than the legal minimum wage or some even not getting paid at all. They are also often subject to humiliation and physical abuse, the paper said.

The story included accounts of racial discrimination some manicurists suffered at Korean-run salons.

One Hispanic employee was quoted as saying she and her colleagues were made to sit in silence during their entire 12-hour shifts, while the Korean manicurists were free to chat. Another employee from Tibet said she had to each lunch standing while her Korean counterparts ate at their desks.

After the report, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an emergency order cracking down on worker abuses at nail salons, saying an multi-agency task force would “move immediately to prevent unlawful practices and unsafe working conditions in the nail salon industry.”

“We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights,” Cuomo said.