Korean Nail Salon Owners Deny Wage Abuses

The interior of an Iris Nail shop on Madison Ave. (Photo via Korea Daily)

The interior of an Iris Nail shop on Madison Avenue (Photo via Korea Daily)

[Editor’s note: On May 7, the New York Times published online an article by Sarah Maslin Nir about the nail salon business in New York City that noted that “manicurists are routinely underpaid and exploited, and endure ethnic bias and other abuse.” The article also stated that:

“The owners of Iris Nails, a chain with shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn, had seven stores that generated sales of $8 million per year, according to a 2012 article in Korea Daily, a Korean-American newspaper. At the two Iris salons on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, longtime workers described starting wages of $30 and $40 a day. The owners did not respond to requests for comment.”]

In an article in The Korea Times written by Hee-eun Choi, Iris Nail owner Park responded to the New York Times article. Excerpts are below:


…Park said on the phone with The Korea Times, “[I] will appoint a lawyer and request a correction to the story… I currently run four shops. It is not true that I pay less than the minimum wage to workers… When I read the article, I was surprised that incorrect information on Korean nail shops, not only my shop, was reported like the truth.”

Park continued, “There are only a few shops that don’t pay the minimum wage and pay only $30 to $40 a day, like the article reported… As a false story was published, [I] will officially ask for a correction.”

Lee, who runs a nail salon in Lower Manhattan, said, “[The article] has affected the industry a lot. I heard that one of the customers asked an employee whether she gets paid well… Some nail salons could be run illegally, but the article could mislead [readers] into thinking that all the shops are like that.”

The Korean American Nail Salon Association of New York said it would announce its position after having a discussion with members and directors of the association after May 8 when the second article is published. [Editor’s note: On May 8 the New York Times published online a second article, entitled “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers,” about the toxic chemicals to which workers in nail salons are exposed.]

An article in Korea Daily by Dong-chan Shin and Soo-hyung Kim discussed the charges of ethnic bias in The New York Times article:


The Korean nail industry rose up in opposition to the article. Kim, who has run a nail salon in downtown Manhattan for more than 20 years, said, “The story made things, which would happen in Chinese nail salons that came into the industry with competitive prices, seem to be the case for all Korean salons [as well]… Most of the workers at my shop are non-Koreans, all of them are experts with a license, and they are getting paid more than the minimum wage.”

According to the Korean nail salon industry, the wage disparity between Koreans and non-Koreans depends on skill levels and job titles, not race.

Sangho Lee, president of the Korean American Nail Salon Association of New York, said right after The New York Times report was published, “[The article] is condemning all Korean owners for some shops’ problems… It is an excessive distortion that Korean owners are discriminating against non-Koreans on the basis of race… I stopped the interview with The New York Times because they tried to link the wage disparity based on skills and positions to a race issue.”

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