If you read this blog you know that I think you can't trust anything that is printed in the New York Times. But last week they hit a new low with back-to-back long articles on Thursday and Friday about supposed exploitation of workers in the nail salon industry. The articles are "The Price of Nails" from May 7 and "Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers" from May 8, both under the by-line of Sarah Maslin Nir.
These stories have "gone viral" as they say. Commentary on them is everywhere. And literally everyone has fallen for the scam. Of course the Times Editorial Board chimed in Monday with a clarion call for "Justice for Nail Salon Workers." Of course Governor Cuomo immediately announced emergency state measures to protect the nail salon workers. Of course the likes of Time ("exploitation . . . severely underpaid"), and NBC News ("underpaid . . . physical and verbal abuse"), and Jezebel ("appalling working conditions"), etc., etc., etc., parroted the Times story without a hint of critical thinking.
Much more surprising is that some who would normally show at least a little skepticism toward the propaganda coming out of Pravda seem to have bit on this hook. For example, libertarian law professor Richard Epstein, while providing a theoretical defense of the industry's practices in a lengthy article at the Hoover Institution journal, still begins his article by saying that the Times "describes in painful and accurate detail the trials and tribulations in the manicurist trade in New York City and elsewhere." What possible basis could he have for thinking that the Times reporting is "accurate"? -- certainly not their past record on reporting stories such as these. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, had an op-ed in yesterday's New York Post in which he called the stories of the nail salon workers "heart-wrenching."
What I can't understand is why everybody gives the Times total credit for accuracy in reporting on the pay and working conditions of these workers. Can anybody ask the simple question of whether this can possibly be true? I haven't found it. So let me do it: Can any of this possibly be true? The answer is no.
I'll focus on what is reported as to the pay of the workers. Here's what the Times reports:
Tucked in her pocket was $100 in carefully folded bills for another expense: the fee the salon owner charges each new employee for her job. The deal was the same as it is for beginning manicurists in almost any salon in the New York area. She would work for no wages, subsisting on meager tips, until her boss decided she was skillful enough to merit a wage. It would take nearly three months before her boss paid her. Thirty dollars a day.
$100 fee to get a non-paying job; after three months of no pay, $30 per day; and nothing to subsist on but "meager" tips (no dollar amount specified). Do you believe it? Here's my problem with it. I live in Manhattan, I regularly use the services of service people and I know lots of other people who do too. And in a general way, I know what the market is. And I know that the market starts at $15 per hour, and if you have someone who's any good and you want to keep them for more than a few months, you'll very quickly have to go to $20, and then up from there.
Don't believe me? The obvious kinds of jobs available to young women in the country illegally and with limited English language skills are nannies and housekeepers. Kindly google the subject of jobs for such people in Manhattan and you will see that I am correct: lots of postings for jobs at $15 per hour (but not below), and with experience or more than one kid to watch it can easily be $20; and even substantially more for larger numbers of kids and/or difficult hours. And by the way, do you think you can hire an attractive young Asian woman for those prices? Forget it!
So what is it with these nail salon workers? Can they really be this stupid? You can believe that if you choose, but no, people are not this stupid. I'm sorry, but these young women work in the nail salon industry because the jobs are substantially better than the alternatives of nanny and housekeeper that pay $15 and up. Some of that may be that it's easier work, but a lot of it is that the pay is also better. How is that possible? The answer is tips.
Go through this whole endless May 7 Times article, and try to find any quantification of how much money these workers make in tips. You won't find it. There is the one statement that the tips are "meager," but after that it's all about the "pay" and the "wage." Didn't they even ask any of these people how much they make in tips, let alone try to find out how much top people can make in tips? Really, this is insulting to our intelligence. Actually, I have no doubt that they are very aware of how much is made in tips in this industry, and they are intentionally suppressing it because as soon as that information is out the whole story goes poof. It's completely obvious to anyone who thinks about it that experienced and skilled people in this business can make several hundred dollars a day. Which would you rather do: make $50,000 or even $60,000 in a quiet air-conditioned nail salon, or $40,000 lugging a vacuum around somebody's house while you try to watch a kid at the same time?
And if I might take this one step farther: Where did the New York Times get this story from? If you've read enough of these expose stories from Pravda with even a mildly inquisitive mind, you have figured out that such stories are fed to them by activists with some agenda. Also, those activists typically want to be quoted somewhere in the story (since the idea is to promote themselves and their agenda) but don't want to be fingered as the source of the story. So go through this article with that in mind, and you will find this:
“You can be assured, if you go to a place with rock-bottom prices, that chances are the workers’ wages are being stolen,” said Nicole Hallett, a lecturer at Yale Law School who has worked on wage theft cases in salons. “The costs are borne by the low-wage workers who are doing your nails.”
It's an ambitious young litigation lawyer from Yale Law School with a bunch of contingency-fee cases pending against struggling small businesses. Any surprise there? Those businesses will never be able to prove how much their workers made in tips, so Nicole is confident that she has them on the ropes. And with the Times story bringing in the New York State government on her side, now it's like shooting fish in a barrel.
So a couple of years from now Nicole will be richer by a few mil, and a few dozen (or a few hundred) small struggling nail salon owners, who maybe could have hoped to make one to two hundred thousand dollars in a good year, will now be broke and out of business. Oh, and a few thousand young nail salon workers will have to get jobs doing something else. The something else is by definition worse from their perspective than what they are currently doing, or they would already be doing it. Congratulations New York Times! And congratulations also to all of its readers who bought into this journalistic drivel.