Worker voice, representation, and power

Nailing New Labor Models: Exploring Sectoral Bargaining and High-Road Training Partnerships in the Nail Salon Sector

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The nail salon sector is a multibillion industry in the United States, mainly comprising small businesses staffed by immigrants and refugees. About three of four nail salon employees are Asian, and four of five are foreign-born or women. Concerns in the industry include low wages, wage theft, misclassification, and exposure to health and safety hazards. Employees need formal training opportunities, a career ladder, a stronger voice, and control over working conditions.

This report explores what partnerships and sectoral boards can do to build a sustainable and equitable nail salon industry, focusing on two approaches from other sectors. The high-road training partnership (HRTP) and sectoral bargaining approaches can be adapted for nail salons but require distinct interventions and capacities for member participation.

The report uses four in-depth expert interviews with community and union partners who have implemented these models, including the Building Skills Partnership, Warehouse Worker Resource Center, Seattle Domestic Workers Coalition, and Service Employees International Union’s Fast Food Worker Campaign, to consider the opportunities and challenges in implementing these models for nail salon worker organizing and advocacy. The report assesses these models’ applicability and feasibility for the nail salon sector through four focus groups with salon workers and owners in California and Massachusetts.

The report also guides advocacy organizations working to improve nail salon labor standards. It examines paths forward and lessons learned to develop partnerships among high-road employers, worker organizations, and other industry stakeholders.

Recommendations to support workers and workforce development: 

  • Safeguard worker wages and benefits, such as minimum wage, overtime pay, paid sick leave, and meal breaks through enforcement of labor laws.
  • Address issues of misclassification where employees are incorrectly categorized as independent contractors.
  • Create continuing education programs and pathways for workers to increase their skill sets and provide opportunities for wage increases, as well as opportunities for developing other life skills.
  • Support workers’ access to health care. 

Recommendations to support nail salon owners and develop high-road businesses:

  • Create training support and resources for salon owners to develop high-road infrastructure (e.g., how to address good pay, scheduling, and benefits for workers).
  • Create programs for salon owners on how to run sustainable, healthy, and just businesses.
  • Create industry-specific recovery programs and grants for the nail salon sector, including recovery planning programs for owners.
  • Mandate consistent safety, health, and worker’s rights trainings for employers at salon openings.
  • Educate nail salon consumers on why it is important to pay a fair price for nail services. 

Recommendations to develop an HRTP: 

  • Research HRTP models for a worker organization that is not a union and does not have union-based partnerships but already has strong enough employer and worker relationships to bring employers and workers to the table.
  • Research HRTP models for an industry composed of largely small businesses as opposed to a few companies or chains.
  • Assess whether setting up a regional HRTP is better in scale, given that nail salon advocacy organizations may be able to best support regional efforts at first.
  • Assess the relationship between the existing Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Program in certain cities and counties in California and Massachusetts and how they would overlap with or get expanded under an HRTP.

Recommendations to adopt sectoral bargaining’s board models: 

  • Research how the new fast-food wage councils in California and how the Nail Salon Minimum Standards Council Act will work in New York.
  • Research whether wage councils can have local and/or statewide councils and determine which would best benefit the nail salon industry. 
  • Assess what resources are needed to build support infrastructure. This could pay workers for their participation, to on-board all members, and to create training and curriculum for board processes.
  • Implement language justice in terms of translation of all materials and interpretation at all meetings. 
  • Focus on raising prices for services statewide so individual salons are not singled out.