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Posts Tagged ‘new york times’

On May 7 the New York Times published an expose about the horrific working conditions for manicurists in many of Manhattan’s nail salons, “The Price of Nice Nails.”

Specifically, the article pointed to many cases where workers were being paid abysmally low wages—after initially being forced to pay salon owners for the job in the first place—with little opportunity to earn more or work their way up to a decent living wage. Even well-tipping customers are no boon for these workers, because the salon owners are skimming their workers’ gratuities, too. The article also pointed to the hazardous conditions brought on by manicurists working with and breathing in harmful chemicals all day, often with no masks.

Suffice it to say the Times did not paint a pretty picture of NYC nail salons and many customers, including my wife, were left wondering if there was a way to be a “responsible” mani-pedi customer.

On Thursday night she had her first post-NYT mani-pedi. She went back to a salon she’d been to many times before, Angel’s Nail on the Upper East Side. Despite the claims in the Times, she felt Angel’s maintained a clean shop, the workers usually seemed in good spirits, and the prices weren’t dirt cheap to the point where she felt they were cutting corners on employee wages.

As the Times article pointed out, mani and pedi prices in NYC are actually lower than in other parts of the country—which is unheard of for basically any product or service I can think of—because a) the area is so much more concentrated with salons and b) salon owners pay their employees so little. From the Times story:

The typical cost of a manicure in the city helps explain the abysmal pay. A survey of more than 105 Manhattan salons by The Times found an average price of about $10.50. The countrywide average is almost double that, according to a 2014 survey by Nails Magazine, an industry publication.

With fees so low, someone must inevitably pay the price.

“You can be assured, if you go to a place with rock-bottom prices, that chances are the workers’ wages are being stolen,” said Nicole Hallett, a lecturer at Yale Law School who has worked on wage theft cases in salons. “The costs are borne by the low-wage workers who are doing your nails.”

If there was any question as to whether Angel’s Nail was aware of the NYT article (and the potential backlash against Manhattan nail salons), it was answered right away on the price board. My wife reports that in previous visits she paid about $33 for a mani-pedi at Angel’s. But this past Thursday, the same service was priced at $43–a 30% increase.

The way I see it we can interpret the big price bump in one of two ways: either the $10 difference represents the salon’s mea culpa over previously paying its workers poorly, now showing its customers that Angel’s has seen the error of its ways; or it represents a smart salon capitalizing on an opportunity to monetize its customers’ guilt for previously paying so little for their mani-pedis (though, why should customers feel guilty if the salon wasn’t doing anything wrong?).

The salon was nearing closing time when my wife arrived so she got the benefit of having two workers tend to her, one on the mani the other on the pedi. When she went to pay her total came to $47 (not the $43 from the price board, so now it was a 42% increase from her last visit). With the article in mind, she didn’t feel like she was in a position to argue, so she went ahead and paid it. On top of that she tipped BOTH workers, more than she normally would have. All told she paid around $55 for a the same mani-pedi that used to cost her about $38.

I can only assume other nail customers are seeing changes in the pricing–and possibly the level of service, cleanliness and customer service–at their local salons. I’d like to think its made the bad salons clean up their act. If that means the good salons are using it to make a little more money for themselves, well, I’ll leave the laws of supply and demand sort out whether that’s a smart strategy moving forward.

Have you been to a Manhattan nail salon before and after the Times article? Have you seen a difference?

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If you’ve done any air travel in the last year or so, the airline you’re flying has probably asked you to solve a problem for them—for free. I know I’ve been asked, and I don’t like it.

Because the airline business is apparently a tough racket in which to turn a profit (fuel is expensive, etc.), many airlines now charge customers to check their bags as a way to drum up some more cash (or haven’t you noticed?).

The domino effect of charging for bags, of course, is that more people are carrying on smaller luggage avoid the checked baggage fees. This means that the once-sufficient overhead compartment space on planes is now full of bags that would have been checked (if checking was still free). The lack of overhead space is the problem they’re asking us to solve.

Airlines are now asking passengers with carry-on luggage to volunteer to check their bags (free of charge!) at the gate to cut down on delays when boarding; this was the case on my last few trips with Delta and Sun Country. The thinking is, if we all take our carry-ons onto the plane and there’s no room left in the overheads, some of us will have to check our no-longer-carry-on bags with the flight attendants anyway, which takes more time than if we’d done that up front.

As a Business Insider article points out, it’s unclear what the airlines’ incentive is for even bothering to ask passengers to gate-check Are airlines really concerned about these boarding delays, considering the whole industry constantly experiences customer-facing delays? Is there anyone among us who, when traveling by plane, doesn’t automatically assume their travel will take longer than it’s “supposed to”?

But the part that confuses me is the incentive of a customer to gate-check a carry-on bag for the greater good, i.e. the rest of the passengers on the aircraft, in the hopes of moving things along a bit more quickly.

I have, nor will I ever, volunteer to check my carry-on—which, incidentally, I packed specifically so that I wouldn’t have to check it, and thus wait at baggage claim. How much time does it even save? On my last flight I overheard the flight attendant say that 24 carry-on bags were checked at the gate, and yet there still wasn’t enough room for several of the unlucky last-boarding passengers’ bags in the overheads. (I was fortunate to find some overhead space a few rows behind my my seat, and after we landed another passenger was nice enough to pass my bag forward so I didn’t have to wait for the plane to empty to get it.)

Not to belabor the point, but seriously, why would anyone volunteer to check their bag? I saw a clergyman board my plane this weekend and even he carried his bag on and stuffed it into the remaining space in the overhead!

The aforementioned BI article suggests that the stick, i.e. penalizing non-checkers, is the best way to incentivize people to check a bag at the gate. (He recommends threatening them with no in-flight beverage service.) But I think the carrot would work better for someone like me. Currently, the “reward” for checking at the gate is nothing other than allowing the checkers to board the plane first (after first class, people with young children, disabled people, active duty military personnel, etc.). But in my view, the only benefit to boarding first is to make sure you get a spot for your bag in the overhead. Why do I care if I’m boarding first if I still have to wait at baggage claim when we land???

People like free stuff. Why not simply offer a $10 or $20 credit on the airline, good for future travel or an alcoholic drink or for-purchase food on the plane? Money towards cab fare or parking? A Best Buy gift card? Or literally anything else worth any value to a customer? (Think about it: what would it take for you to agree to gate-check your bag? Not much, but something, right?)

A New York Times columnist recently applied similar logic to the question of reclining one’s seat, which has drawn the attention of the air traveling public. Some planes have had emergency landings because of passengers fighting over leg room gained/lost by a reclined seat. The columnist suggested that if airlines want to avoid this, they should pay passengers not to recline. But I’m not sure the right to recline, knowing it will make the person behind you uncomfortable for the entire flight, is the same as the right to carry-on your carry-on.

I realize that it might not be worth it to the airline to save a few minutes while boarding if they have to pay people to do something (checking at the gate) they were previously asking them to do out of the goodness of their hearts. But if that’s the case, then I’d really like for Delta, Sun Country, or whomever I’m flying, to stop asking its customers—who have already paid for their seat with dollars—to now also donate the most precious currency they have, their time, without getting something in return.

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