Nailing Some Westport Employers?

For a few years now, Westport’s nail salons have been “06880”‘s version of a big piñata. They just sit there — dozens of them* — waiting for me to whack away.

But the New York Times‘ recent expose of that city’s nail salon industry — detailing near-slave working conditions, exposure to dangerous chemicals and more — is no laughing matter.

Alert “06880” reader Mary Lynn Halland took note of the Times’ stories too. Turning to Westport, she writes:

I wonder if any of our nail salons will step up and announce that they 1) only employ licensed nail technicians; 2) pay minimum wage, plus overtime; 3) don’t charge employees for a job and/or training; 4) provide adequate ventilation, especially when working with acrylic nails, etc.

No, Kaley Cuoco does not get her nails done in Westport. At least, I don't think she does.

No, Kaley Cuoco does not get her nails done in Westport. At least, I don’t think she does.

I have never had a manicure (or pedicure), so I am no expert on this. But I’m sure many “06880” readers are.

Did the Times story make you think twice about your Westport nail salon? Have you asked the owners about their practices? Would you? Should you? If so, can you share their replies with the “06880” community?

Please click “Comments” to add your thoughts.

Sure, manicures are important. But so are the lives of the women who provide them.

*See? I can’t help myself.

16 responses to “Nailing Some Westport Employers?

  1. I normally go to q nails in Norwalk ( yes sorry it’s not Westport) but they allow their technicians to wear masks while dealing with acrylic… I have no idea about wages and such but most employees have been there forever. The mere fact that they are wearing masks to help reduce their exposure is great

  2. Jean Tornatore

    “Manicures are important” Maybe this shouldn’t be the default assumption.

    • Susan Hopkins

      Hear, Hear!

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      I wouldn’t posit that the manicures themselves are important, but the business model is one that moves cash through the local ecosystem. We may not be the target audience who maintains a weekly salon appointment, but we should’t diminish the impact of the exercise as solely one of vanity.

  3. Mary Ann West

    Dan and Mary Lynn,

    Thank you for posting this. The NYT two part in-depth article exposed a gut-wrenching and ugly second class labor system to say the least.

    The prices are attractive, but at what cost? Even in Westport: vans arrive daily, typically with NY license plates, dropping off a dozen woman. Donning fake Americanized name badges, working 10 or more hours per shift, just to leave in the evening and return the next morning, six or seven days a week.

    This issue has become so systemic that on a statewide basis, our Government needs to step in and protect every worker. It won’t be easy as some owner/ managers seem to play three card monte with their workers, moving them around. If these women stood at a street corner daily in Westport to get picked up, action would be taken.

    Imagine the tax dollars are not being paid by a business that only pays someone $10, $20 oe $30 for a day’s work. Do we care? Should we care, and if so… what are we to do?

  4. I live in a large metro area — not Westport anymore — and we have hundreds and hundreds of nail salons within square miles of the city — most operating like this. Some feel literally like “dens of iniquity”, dark, unclean, you can feel the fear hanging out in the corners, let alone the stuff that can get into and onto your feet and nails from these places and it does. The word on the street is that there is the “nail salon mafia” running things nationwide and worldwide –huge underground abuse set up in this country and around the world- that they are run like brothels – very abusive to the nail techs. I started noticing there was so much fear and resentment in their eyes – -hence the Elaine nail salon episode on Seinfeld – yes, they do talk about us and can we blame them?? They do resent us in their hearts. Look at how they live and what we must appear like to them?

    I no longer get my nails done anywhere except in my own home by my own two hands doing my own hands and feet and they’ve never been better – with organic products all the way. Some folks, I realize, aren’t physically able to do this but believe me, if you can, your health is worth it and well as not subsidizing systematic abuse of these people. You just have to practice to get that finished look. Or I pay a lot of money and go to a very high end medi-spa where it’s like going into a dr’s office.

  5. Elissa Moses

    I second the positive comments about Posh Nails where I have been going regularly for years and have both observed and discussed with the nail technicians what it is like to work there. Besides being highly professional and treating their employees well, they have always been on the leading edge of safety and sanitation. The foreign employees tend to stay for many years well beyond getting green cards and citizenship. They are loyal because they are treated well and a have pleasant working environment. I am concerned about the industry as a whole however and think that if the customer base in places like NY falls away, many of these very women who we would all like to see protected will lose their jobs and face dire straights.

  6. Darryl Manning

    I wish Gov. Malloy would react as Gov. Cuomo did in NY. We need a statewide investigation into these practices and abuses. I lived in Westport most of my life, but now in Black Rock where we HAD several massage parlors of the questionable type. People here mobilized with the help of our then State Rep Auden Grogins and City Councilwoman Susan Brannally to change State Law and city ordinances. These businesses were shut down within a matter of months. The same can and should be done for nail salons.

  7. Bobbie Herman

    After the article came out, I contacted our Attorney General, George Jepsen, asking him to investigate the problem. I received a call from a gentleman in his office, who told me that this was the responsibility of of the Department of Health and the Department of Labor, and the matter had been referred to them. I certainly hope that they will stop any and all abuses. By the way, I also go to Posh Nails and have found it squeaky clean and the staff appear to be satisfied. They always gossip and laugh among themselves, if that’s any indication. Bobbie Herman, President, Democratic Women of Westport.

  8. I’m also a Posh Nails client. I posted about this issue a few days ago at http://wp.me/p4BsjQ-x2. I will ask the questions on my next visit.

  9. The possibility that workers are being mistreated absolutely makes me think twice about patronizing these businesses. I don’t need to indulge my vanity at the expense of the well being of others. I can purchase a bottle of nail polish and a file. Until I have good reason to believe that this situation has been remediated I am fine with these businesses.

  10. Kala Namasivayam

    sigh, a pedicure was one of my unabashed luxuries, now I have to feel guilty about that also. I go to Dove Spa across from Stew Leonards, yes the owner is Korean, they bring workers from Flushing, they wear masks. The place always seemed clean and hygenic. Beyond that I dont know. I havent gone since the story broke, but I probably will go back and maybe tip more. I wouldnt go to any place that charges so low like NY times reported. You get what you pay for and some more unwanted diseases…

    >>Sure, manicures are important. But so are the lives of the women who provide them.

    I dont think you can ask this question in isolation. What about the people who cut the grass?? NY Times does an expose and we are all going to start cutting the lawn ourselves?

    I hope the govt in whatever effort they make, makes it a priority to educate these women of their rights also in addition to any enforcement at the owners. But I have a sad feeling that we will wring our hands and things will go back to business as usual after some time.

  11. I can only speak for Korean owned nail salons, but given my Korean (ex) wife routinely enlisted my help for her Korean real estate clientele — many of whom were either nail salon (or dry cleaners) owners in Fairfield County – I believe I speak with authority. First off, Koreans are cleanliness freaks, which I say in a positive way. They never wear shoes in the house, they sterilize everything, they hate bugs, etc. They also go top-dollar on equipment, often spending $300-500K per salon to outdo each other.

    There are sooo many Koreans looking for work in US nail salons, with Fairfield County being #1 on their list, that the people you see working here are not just good, but all-star good. That’s why, as people have pointed out, you see the same people day in and day out. If you don’t, it’s often because another salon has lured them away for more money. As one slip and you good seriously damage someone’s finger or toe, you have to be skilled at what you do.

    The Westport-Weston Health Department is well known among Koreans for their strict attention to detail. The spas in Westport are IMO the likely the safest in the U.S. when you factor in no corners are cut with the equipment and personnel.

    As for wages, some spas were paying less than minimum, but only because, like the restaurant industry, the tips make an hourly wage about $15-20/hour. Sometimes the tips go directly to the employee, other times they are pooled among all the workers. If you are so inclined for the true welfare of salon employees, petition the state to have them treated like restaurant workers. Salons, like restaurants, are in the service industry, and need lower base wages to keep enough staff on hand to handle unpredictable surges in customers. Nobody likes long lines and slow service.

    Lastly, every immigrant group that came to our shores worked their way up in some profession or another. Sometimes they got paid a fair wage, sometimes not. But even if not, whatever they made here was far better than the alternative back home or even here. It’s great to demand immigrants get treated fairly, but by not patronizing their establishments you are assuring the lesser of evils. In other words, going to nail salons and caring about the plight of nail salon workers is not mutually exclusive. You can do both. I sincerely hope you do!

  12. Allison Adler

    I agree with the above post. Their lives here are far better than back in China or Korea. I have been to many (I like my luxuries) nail salons all over town and in the city. I think for the most part, the salons in Westport are very clean and I have never had an issue. In the city, I have seen some 2nd floor poorly ventilated places charging rock bottom places-this is not what I have found here.
    Do these manicurists have an easy life? No. At my latest manicure, the technician said she was happy and treated very fairly by the owner who is Korean. She has been at that salon for 5 years. She was smiling despite having an infant who is turning 2 and is currently in China until October when her husband can get his visa. The jobs that are available for most of these immigrants are nails, restaurants or massage..So by not patronizing these places, I do not think we are doing these hard-working people any favors-so, go, enjoy and tip well!!