Since last May when the two-part series came out on alleged exploitation of nail workers in the New York Times, the state's labor inspectors have conducted a targeted sweep of nail salons in the area. The inspectors were looking to ensure that the state's wage and labor laws were being followed, and seeking evidence to that effect.

Reporting on their findings, the New York Times indicated that in the majority of cases, salons were not maintaining proper records of wages and hours worked. Inspectors had to rely on testimony from the workers themselves, who may have cast a more favorable light on their wages while standing in front of their bosses.

In some cases, owners appeared to be shortchanging workers. Cases ranged from underpayment and not compensating for overtime, to actually not paying workers or requiring the workers to pay for training. One small salon near Columbia University had about $100,000 in underpayment violations, cheating six employees over a three-year period.

All in all, about $1.1 million in back pay is being demanded from the state of New York, as well as several thousand dollars in damages.

The reporting is careful to present a balanced view, attempting to point out the cases where salons were doing the right thing. "The state did find salons that were following labor laws. A worker at Atlas Park Floris Spa and Nails, in Glendale, Queens — one of the 12 salons that received no citations for violations in the recent sweep — said in an interview that she had earned $9 an hour plus tips and liked her job."

The point, says Frank Sobrino, spokesman for the governor's office, is not to punish salon owners for bookkeeping errors. “We are fighting to recover unpaid wages and improve working conditions for exploited nail salon workers,” he says.

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