The Price of Nice Nails

I have never been one for manicures. The first and only time I ever had one was at College, courtesy of a Beauty student who needed someone to practice on.

Still, even in the cities of London and Manchester, I’ve noticed the nail salon spring up in often unexpected places, much like mushrooms lighting up the dankest streets in the dullest parts of town. Their low prices obviously mask even lower wages for the workers, as highlighted in ‘The Price of Nice Nails‘ by Sarah Maslin Nir.

Such cases are always complicated to figure out. Yes, workers are being exploited but in their exploitation they are also able to make money and better lives for themselves and their families. We’ve heard the usual rigamarole of argument and counter argument. It’s tough. As the daughter of immigrants myself, it might sound strange, but I understand the value of these places that allow children like me to go to school and get into University but also allow us to emulate the fashion models and society belles when we cannot afford to.

However, in an age where employment and immigration are the issues on everyone’s lips and the spectre of AI and automated workers looms, this stood out:

Around the time her first semester of English classes wrapped up, Ms. Ren asked for another raise. It was then she learned there are actually two price lists at her salon. One is for customers. The other is jotted down in a hidden-away notebook and lists the prices employees must pay the owner to learn new skills: such as $100 for eyebrow waxing, $100 to learn how to apply gel and cure it with ultraviolet light. A raise would require a new skill — her boss suggested eyebrows and gel — and the cash fee.

She was in the nail salon van when her boss told her of the fee, as he drove her to a different Long Island salon he owns. He shuttles employees between the two shops, depending upon which is busiest. An iPad propped on the dashboard played video feeds from both salons. Ms. Ren responded to the new fee with uncharacteristic furor.

Her boss relented: He would give her a 50 percent discount. She refused.

“I already paid when I first came,” she said. “Now I’m an employee and have been here for so long. Why do I still have to pay to pick up new skills?”

It’s almost as though one can see the future of work in these next few paragraphs. Workers constantly being upgraded and encouraged (perhaps quite firmly in some cases) to take further skills, the payment for them out of their own pocket – or perhaps that of the business for the better class employer – in the meantime the latest technology of the day being used as the marshal, the middle man. Not so much replacing the worker as a potential colleague, but instead becoming their prefect, their warden.