How nail salon workers fell through the cracks in Covid relief in the United States

All of these stresses add up. Tony Nguyen, program coordinator at the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, says return rent is going up and jobs are fewer. Older women, in particular, fear they will not be called back to work. Others fear that they will not have the opportunity to say no, even if they do not feel safe because they are not vaccinated.

“[There are] people who go back to work because they are in huge debt, ”says Prarthana Gurung, campaign and communications manager for Adhikaar, a non-profit organization that works with staff at the Nepalese-speaking nail salon in New York City. . “Who says, ‘I have to go back to work, I have no choice. I have to feed my children. “

Safety is not a theoretical concern. “You will be there for eight or ten hours working,” says Nguyen. “Some customers don’t like to wear their masks.”

He says these painful choices also affect homeowners, who may be forced to close their doors.

“They don’t see the future,” he said.

Barriers to accessing aid

When nail salons were closed, most workers even lost the ability to risk illness for a paycheck. “Immediately after the lockdown, a whole industry sprang up [to] 100% unemployment, ”says Gurung.

Some workers qualified for public covid assistance, but first had to go to a website and register online. These kinds of tasks were “nearly impossible” for some nail technicians in New York City, Gurung says, either because of poor literacy and digital skills, or because they speak languages ​​less common in the United States. Adhikaar serves workers from Nepal, Tibet, India and beyond.

“There was a huge information gap,” Gurung says, “and people weren’t getting the resources on time or realizing the benefits they could get.”

The precarious immigration status made financial support even more difficult to harness. Many New York nail salon workers are undocumented in the United States, which means they are not eligible for stimulus checks, UI, and other aids. The NY Nail Salon Workers Association, which is part of the Workers United union, surveyed more than 1,000 members, most of them Latin, and found that more than 81% said they were excluded from government aid during the pandemic.

Low priority

Nail salon technicians, along with other personal care workers like those in barber shops and beauty salons, spent months working in person, their faces often inches from clients. Nevertheless, they were not priority for vaccines in New York City, unlike grocery store workers, delivery drivers, or even nonprofit employees who help provide services to nail salon workers. Many are in the process of becoming eligible as open nominations to more age groups.

But even with expanded eligibility, getting the doses to nail salon workers remains a challenge due to language barriers, technical hurdles, and more.

“In Nepalese culture, we talk about the opening of the third eye. There is a level of awareness that has really happened over the last nine months to a year.

Prarthana Gurung, Campaigns and Communication Manager for Adhikaar

“Getting our communities vaccinated is going to take a lot of effort, organization and education,” said Luis Gomez, organization director of the Workers United NY / NJ Joint Board, which commissioned the study on human infections. nail salon workers, in an email. “We need more local vaccination sites in the most affected communities, direct outreach in people’s mother tongue, support around the vaccine nomination process and meaningful education to fight against misinformation about vaccines. “

Despite promises of widespread availability, vaccines have been notoriously hard to find for many in the United States, especially for working class people of color. Even though the share of whites, blacks and Latinos who wish to be photographed is similar, vaccination disparities rates persist.

This gap urgently needs to be closed to prevent more serious illness and death. Araceli, who is a member of the Nail Salon Workers Association, is a single mother of two boys who depend on her income. Getting the vaccine would mean having a little more security and control over whether your job could be life threatening.

“As workers, we deserve to be seen as ‘essential’ because we are going to work like any other person,” she says.

How workers are progressing

To address these issues, lawmakers in New York are working out the details of the Excluded workers’ funds, an ambitious plan that would offer unemployment benefits to those who were not previously eligible. Some workers are currently on hunger strike, calling on state lawmakers to commit $ 3.5 billion to the fund. And advocates say nail industry workers could be better protected beyond the pandemic thanks to legislation like the NY Hero Act and the Nail Salons Liability Act.

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