New York Times

The New York Times Just Inadvertently Repudiated Its Own Flawed Nail Salon 'Expose'

It buried the lede, of course.

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When New York Times editors were defending the paper's two-part series on alleged labor abuses in nail salons last year, they repeatedly pointed to the high rate of violations uncovered by a state inspection task force.

That task force, which was formed in reaction to the paper's coverage, "issued nearly 1,800 violations after inspecting some 755salons," noted a letter co-signed by three top editors at the paper. They were responding to an attack in The New York Review of Books by Richard Bernstein titled, "What the Times Got Wrong about Nail Salons." A spokesperson for the paper later used the same defense when responding to my own critical appraisal of the nail salon series.

After Bernstein and I demonstrated that the original articles, written by reporter Sarah Maslin Nir, were filled with blatant mischaracterizations and misquotes from key sources, presenting an extremely skewed depiction of the industry, the Times editors clung to the notion that the state's findings demonstrated that Nir basically got the story right.

Now the Times has taken a close look at those labor inspections and discovered that they "reveal another reality" that doesn't match up with Nir's findings. As reporters Russ Buettner and Kim Barker explain, immigrant nail salon owners were often tripped up by the technicalities of New York State wage and hour regulations and they often paid their workers by the day and in cash, thus setting themselves up for trouble:

Many owners, even some of those making efforts to pay decent wages, simply failed to grasp the technical details of state labor laws. Many salon owners, for example, seemed unaware that they must pay one full hour of bonus wages when an employee's shift spans more than 10 hours.

Nail workers routinely work days that stretch longer than eight hours and are paid in flat daily or weekly wages, a combination that does not square with state labor laws on overtime pay and essentially guarantees a violation, even when employees are paid a rate that works out to more than the state minimum wage.

In two dozen cases, for instance, owners paid employees an equivalent of at least the state minimum wage and overtime for the hours they worked, but because they did not correctly account for the overtime hours, they were still cited for underpayment.

If you exclude those two dozen cases, Buettner and Barker report that 67 nail salons, or a little more than one quarter of those investigated by the state, paid less than the minimum wage. And of those 67, 25 missed the mark by less than $50.

In other words, the original Times story argued that three-quarter of nail salons in New York paid less than the minimum wage, but the state inspections have found roughly the opposite to be true.

Buettner and Barker don't mention another aspect of New York State wage and hour law that further complicates the picture. Inspectors counted only the first $2.15 per hour in tips as compensation towards the minimum wage. Anything above that amount—and many manicurists receive substantially more in tips—was disregarded. So even a worker technically making less than the minimum wage may very well may be earning more than the minimum wage in actual compensation.

Buettner and Barker include various misleading details that help conceal the implication of their findings—and the extent to which they repudiate the paper's earlier coverage. Many nail salons didn't keep detailed payroll records, so investigators had to interview the workers to find out how much they were paid and the number of hours they worked per week going back years in some cases. This is a wildly unreliable methodology (do you recall how many hours you worked last week?), and if further calls into question the inspection data's accuracy.

But the Times implies that workers tended to inflate what they were paid and minimize the number of hours they worked because they were afraid of being punished by their employers. "Without records," Buettner and Barker write, "investigators had to accept whatever employees told them they were paid, usually in front of their bosses."

Actually, state investigators don't typically interview employees in front of their bosses. When they conduct a surprise inspection at a nail salon, the standard procedure is to immediately separate the owners and workers and interview them in different locations. And the Times doesn't mention that workers also have a financial incentive to underestimate their past compensation. If a salon owner is found guilty of underpayment, the workers are often entitled to tens of thousands of dollars in back pay with interest.

For more on what the state labor inspections really reveal about the nail salon industry, read part two of my three-part appraisal of the Times' coverage of this issue. For more background on the whole controversy, watch the video below.

* The new story notes that the state inspected 395 salons between May and December, and 230 of those inspections have been closed and were analyzed by the Times. Yet all the way back in July, the Times editors erroneously claimed that the number was 755 in their letter to The New York Review of Books.

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  1. This is how the NYT story starts:

    When a New York State labor investigator entered a Long Island nail salon last July, she spotted two women sneaking out the back. The owner insisted that they did not work there.

    But the truth emerged several days later, when one of the women called the investigator and said her boss had told her to flee so she could not be interviewed about her wages. When the investigator returned to the salon, American Beauty, in Port Washington, N.Y., she was surprised when the owner lied to her again about the woman.

    “I said, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this,'” the investigator, Cecilia J. Maloney, recalled.

    1. An employee at the Lucky Nail Spa on N, in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, for instance, had to pay her boss $100 a day for her first two weeks on the job while she put in 10.5-hour shifts during an “apprenticeship,” according to investigators. She also had to pay $25 for supplies.

      The owner, Linda Yang, an immigrant from China, said that before the inspection she thought it was fair to charge the worker. She vowed to never do so again and said she wished she had received a warning before being fined $4,000. She works mostly alone, she said, in her small salon.

      1. And that $4000 went to……

        1. Universal pre-school, you child-hating monster.

          1. Otherwise known as welfare daycare.

      2. “An employee at the Lucky Nail Spa on N, in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, for instance, had to pay her boss $100 a day for her first two weeks on the job while she put in 10.5-hour shifts during an “apprenticeship,” according to investigators. She also had to pay $25 for supplies.”

        On the other hand, if you want to be a masseuse in New York, be prepared to spend 1000 hours in an accredited massage school, after which you must pay the state $108.00 for your license.

        So it’s wrong for someone to charge for on the job training but okay for a school to charge thousands upon thousands of dollars after which the state also expects a cut.

        What is the difference between paying your employer for necessary training and paying a school for that training other than the fact that the government has determined the second one is okay? Hell, the training described here is cheaper than what you’d get if you wanted to get a license.

        1. Excellent point.

        2. There is a “State Board for Massage Therapy”.

          *facepalm*

          1. There’s nothing left to cut.

    2. The investigator probably would also be shocked that the nail salon worker doesn’t get full bennies and a fat pension either.

      “Oh my God, I can’t believe that!”

      1. BREAKING NEWS: State Employee Files Workers Compensation Claim for the Vapors

      2. “right to dental coverage” is a real thing

  2. Write enough regulations and you can prove that *everyone* is not complying.

    1. Exactly. Why, if someone were to investigate the NYT they’d probably find a bunch of bull shit violations.

      The more the numerous the laws…etc., etc.

  3. What other industries will the Times to ruin next? Landscaping? Media? Yes, let’s do media

    1. As long as they print what their readers want to hear it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction. They really don’t care.

      1. The Times doesn’t exist to provide accurate news, it exists to confirm the world view of its readers.

    2. Media? Yes please.

      I’ve heard America described as a place where the people at the bottom toil for long hours and very little pay, while a select few 1%ers at the top make millions at the expense of everyone else. The only way to get to the top is to have the right parents, connections, or be really good looking and lucky.

      That sounds an awful lot like Hollywood to me.

      1. They work as independent contractors too, so they are not provided with healthcare, all while Shep Smith makes seven million dollars per year.

    3. Media? Yes, let’s do media

      Haven’t they been doing so for several decades already? Look at Rolling Stone, print media is circling the drain, why limit yourself?

  4. It’s like poking a stick at a hornet’s nest. You’d think they’d have swept this story down the memory hole by now.

    1. It is a very sad article, but not for the reasons the Times intended it to be.

  5. I wonder how many laws the NYT writers have broken today? 3? 4?

    1. Way, way more than that, JW. Remember that the times has a large number of writers. So, every unsignalled lane change, every incident of speeding…

    2. Actually, that would be a great investigative piece. Shadow NYT reporters and document their lawbreaking and report on the outrage of it all. Seems like one of the tabloids could do this.

  6. OT: George Kennedy died

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/29/…..index.html

    1. Crap. Thanks.

    2. Thank God we still have Lou Reed.

  7. Why do they even have to pay manicurists minimum wage if it’s a job people get tipped for? Shouldn’t you be able to pay below minimum wage like they do in restaurants?

    1. Irish wants to pay the Asians coolie wages. Because he is just that racist.

      1. If they’d stop shanghaiing our women into forced sexual servitude with their opium and their Asiatic wiles, then I wouldn’t have to return the favor on behalf of the white race.

        1. shanghaiing our women into forced sexual servitude with their opium and their Asiatic wiles

          You know of such a place? Just asking for a friend…….

        2. Hey, they could always just slip ’em a mickey.

    2. Investigator Cecilia J. Maloney just collapsed onto her fainting couch.

    3. Actually, Irish, servers in some states (Peoples Republic of California, for example) get the full minimum wage, plus their tips. My tipping has adjusted accordingly.

      1. And servers in other states get wiped with cloths.

        1. I laughed.

    4. nah, we should be more like europe and put them on salary

      1. i worked with a very good waiter at one point who turned down a promotion about once a year cuz he’d make less money (and have to deal with more bullshit) as a manager. he’s totally waiting for the government to save him.

  8. There are at least 7 deductions or withholdings on my paychecks. At least.

    If they’re paying the workers in cash, it probably works out to more than the minimum wage when you factor that in.

    1. Probably a lot more if you figure it that way. Take home vs. take home, the cash probably wins easily.

      1. In NYC??? Absolutely.

        Maybe one of you guys who works in the city can chime in. I know there’s a city income tax, and probably some crazy disability and unemployment withholdings too.

        1. I work and live in NJ, and my paycheck gets raped an ungodly amount. The people I know who work in the city get it even worse.

          1. Well someone has to pay for your world-class subway, school and law enforcement systems.

            1. “Well some bambinos need to come around and collect the garbage, eh Jimmy? Why don’t I just muzzarell right over there and kill a few government witnesses before heading down to Fat Louie’s Spaghetti Hut for some sambuca and cards, but that’s only if Ugly Baby Bertolli gets back with that load of shovels I ordered…”

        2. I have ten taxes on mine. I don’t know what half of them are but I have to pay taxes to two states so there is that.

          1. Jesus. I just have the Feds sticking their hand in my pocket.

            1. Hey, OMWC!! Looks like you have competition.

            2. probably the only time you dont like someone else’s hands in your pockets

        3. I have six: SS, Medicare, Fed income, state income, city income, disability.

      2. Eight taxes:
        Federal Income Tax
        MEDICARE
        SS
        State Income Tax (PA)
        State Unemployment Insurance (PA)
        City
        Head Tax
        School

        Hold up a minute, I just realized I might be paying double on my “head tax” as I also get a similar bill in the mail that I pay.

        1. Hell, I’d pay a Head Tax…as long as it was good Head.

          1. There is good head and better head but…no such thing as bad head!

            1. youve obviously never had government head (monica lewinsky?)

          2. It’s head they have to _force you to pay for_, how good do you think it is?

    2. “If they’re paying the workers in cash, it probably works out to more than the minimum wage when you factor that in.”

      Yeah, but then the public unions don’t get their cut and do you really want to live in that kind of anarchy?

    3. OMG! Stealing revenue from the government!!!

  9. This story is a pretty telling case-study showing just how shallow the left’s pretense as “Champion of the Underclasses” really is.

    They love ‘the oppressed’ when they’re in the abstract. And for the purposes of minimizing their internal dissonance, they’ll insist to themselves that all these nail-salon workers are being “Exploited”….

    …but every actual policy they agitate for? completely fucks over the powerless people they pretend to be speaking on behalf of. Put them all out of business! raise costs! Increase penalties!

    And ignore all these poor women’s voices! lets let some Park Avenue socialite dictate what they *should* think.

    1. No, the policies mean well so they aren’t the problem. Corporate greed is, and always will be, the real problem.

  10. The New York Times lies. Who knew?

  11. Do you want to earn from home by working basic work using your desktop or laptop for 4 to 6 h on daily basis, get paid 75 bucks an hour qj and get a paycheck every week and choose yourself your working time?

    ——– http://www.workprospects.com

  12. Duh, If you don’t like your job, get another one–or Start you own Salon!

  13. I’ve made $76,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student.I’m using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money.It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it.

    Open This LinkFor More InFormation..

    ??????? http://www.workpost30.com

  14. Ah, the New York Times.
    Pravda on the Hudson.

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