Working Healthy

Immigrant Nail Salon Workers Win Legal Victory

After a four-day trial in October, a federal jury awarded $182,000 in back wages, overtime pay, and damages to Susan Kim, a Korean immigrant nail salon worker who worked for seventeen years at 167 Nail Salon Plaza and was fired in March 2005 after demanding regular breaks. Two other workers at the salon settled their claims for unpaid wages before trial. The federal jury actually awarded more than the Korean-American workers had sued for.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2005 by advocacy group, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). Said AALDEF legal director Ken Kimerling: “This victory is a significant first step in forcing the reform of wage and hour practices of nail salons in New York City. This industry has thrived through the exploitation of Asian immigrant workers, and we hope that this victory will encourage other nail salon workers to stand up for their rights.” The nail salon workers and their supporters had picketed for over six months to call attention to the employer’s labor law violations and the workers’ prolonged exposure to potentially toxic chemicals in the workplace.

According to The New York Times, city councilwoman Gale A. Brewer is drafting legislation for nail salons to improve health and safety standards. Meanwhile, immigrant advocacy groups are hoping the size of the award will send a message to other nail salon owners.

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