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Nail salon owners accused of illegal firing

Chinese nail salon workers, protest outside Babi Nail

Chinese nail salon workers, protest outside Babi Nail Salon in Carle Place after six filed a discrimination suit against their employers. (January 2010) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The National Labor Relations Board has charged that the Korean owners of two upscale Long Island nail salons have illegally fired or retaliated against six Chinese workers for filing a suit alleging they were discriminated against and forced to work long hours at low wages.

The decision last week by the federal board parallels in some respects the allegations in an ongoing civil rights suit brought last year in federal court in Central Islip by the same six workers against the owners of Babi Nail salons in Carle Place and Glen Head.

There are a number of Babi Nail salons on Long Island, but their relationship to those named in the NLRB decision and civil suit could not be determined Wednesday.

In the civil suit, the six employees of the two nail salons said they were allegedly pinched or had the backs of their chairs kicked in order to make them work faster. They claimed they were denied overtime, forced to purchase their own work tools and uniforms in violation of federal regulations, and were paid as little as $2.27 an hour.

The civil rights suit also alleged the workers were told "Chinese are stupid," and "Americans and Koreans know how to dress but Chinese do not."

The attorney for the two salons, Saul Zabell of Bohemia, called the NLRB charges "ridiculous," because he said the board had no jurisdiction over the salons. Zabell also said that the accusations in the lawsuit and those brought by the NLRB had no merit and were "sour grapes" because groups trying to unionize Babi workers had failed to get enough worker support to do so.

But Aaron Halegua, a lawyer for the six workers, said in a statement, "We applaud the action of the National Labor Relations Board in pursuing claims against Babi Nail concerning the salons' retaliation against workers who bravely stood up for their legal rights and filed suit against it."

Tracy Kwon, a spokesman for a group supporting the workers, the Justice Will Be Served! campaign, said the group and the Chinese Staff and Workers Association will be demonstrating at the Carle Place Babi Nail at noon Thursday.

A hearing on the NLRB charges is scheduled for February in Brooklyn.

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