For Maya Bhosal Basant, a Nepalese who left her country in 2009, the United States was a “dream,” but after working in a nail salon all these years, she went through so many hardships that she didn’t even dare “tell her kids about it.” .
At the age of 46, he decided to take the fight to the Nepalese Adhikaar Association to fight for the rights of this group of 17,000 people who work in nearly 5,000 beauty salons across New York State, most of whom are immigrant women from Asia and Latin America.
In New York, nail salons are ubiquitous, as are fragility, miserable wages and health risks in a sector that hopes a new law will help improve their daily lives.
In April, a hundred female nail salon workers took to the streets of Manhattan to demand their rights: a mandatory minimum wage ($15 an hour), overtime pay, better access to gloves and masks, a lunch break and medical insurance.
The campaign, promoted by a coalition of organizations with support from Democratic members of Congress, calls for the creation of a body where business owners and workers sit to set minimum labor standards for this group.
After it was published in 2015 in the newspaper The New York Times After investigating exploitative practices, the authorities took charge.
The state asserts that since 2016, more than 1,800 labor violations have been identified in these salons, and $2.2 million has been returned to the affected workers.
They say the end of wages with tips and a minimum of $15 an hour “improved working conditions.”
But Maya Bhusal Basant stresses that there is still a lot to be done behind the windows of these salons as nails have become an object of beauty and imagination.
According to her, “not all” owners pay minimum wages and when they do, they “reduce working hours,” she explains in Nepali, translated by a colleague from Adhikaar.
“How can I live 26 or 27 hours a week” or “bring me home with no clients” so I don’t have to pay?
A recent study by Cornell University’s Labor Institute reports that “unexpected hours” and “wage theft” (not paid for all hours worked) are becoming a reality.
One of the book’s authors, Zoe West, a researcher at Cornell University, explains to AFP: “Many workers have difficulties paying their bills (…) and barely have access to social protection. Most of them do not have health insurance.”
According to official statistics, in 2021 the New York metropolitan area was paid $14.31 an hour, less than the legal minimum, but Zoe West warns that many workers in the sector, the most marginalized, do not earn that much.
Despite numerous attempts, employers’ associations in the sector did not respond to AFP’s requests to give their copy.
Health is added to the anxiety about reaching the end of the month. Maya Posal Bassant tells of her skin problems, persistent cough and breathing difficulties that she often experiences as a result of chemicals like acetone or acrylic paints that she uses all the time.
The authorities also warn of the risks to pregnant women and fetuses, despite the lack of much scientific evidence so far.
In remembrances, many women have long talked about repeated miscarriages.
Since 2016, new facilities must have ventilation, but older facilities have had five years to adjust, although the period has been extended to October 2022 due to “economic hardship” caused by COVID-19.
For Zoë West, one problem lies in the structure of the sector, with small businesses competing fiercely on prices, margins and salaries.
Dipa Shresh Sinjali, who is also Nepalese and now owns a salon in Queens, would like to “raise prices but that is impossible” as there are “less clients than before the pandemic” and to attract them, competition has brought them down.