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Nail salon workers protest over wages, conditions

The upscale interior of the Babi I Nail salon, with its refined but contemporary couches and other furniture, belies the torment the workers inside undergo, six Chinese employees said on Tuesday as they picketed the Carle Place business along with a dozen supporters.

The Korean owners pinched her to make her work faster, paid her well below the minimum wage for workdays of 10 hours or longer without a break, and regularly insulted her and her fellow co-workers about their Chinese heritage, said Yan Zhang, 40, of Flushing, one of the six.

Zhang and her co-workers, along with their supporters, were picketing to highlight a recent lawsuit they filed in federal court in Central Islip, asking for back pay and an end to such alleged discrimination.

Taunts hurled at the Chinese employees by the Korean owners, according to the lawsuit, included such statements as "Chinese are stupid," "Chinese [language] is like noise" and "Americans and Koreans know how to dress but Chinese do not."

The owners of Babi I identified in the suit, Kui Soon Cho and In Bae Kim, did not return phone calls asking for comment. A salon employee, speaking through the business' locked glass front doors during the picketing, said they were not available. Court records did not list an attorney for the owners.

A second nail salon in Glen Head, Babi II, that the two are listed as owning also is part of the lawsuit, which alleges similar abuse of Chinese workers there, according to Aaron Halegua, a lawyer representing the six workers, who works for the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan.

The suit is part of a campaign named Justice Will Be Served aimed at getting decent working conditions and wages for low-paid workers not only in the nail salon industry, but also in the Chinese restaurant and other industries, according to Mika Nagasaki and Josephine Lee, two of the leaders of the Manhattan-based campaign.

The campaign is supported by a coalition of three groups: the National Mobilization Against Sweat Shops, the Chinese Staff and Workers' Association, and Local 318 of the Restaurant Workers Union.

According to the suit, the employees worked up to 12 hours a day and were paid as little as $2.27 an hour, received no overtime pay and sometimes did not get paid for working an entire day.

While federal law bars an employer from requiring minimum-wage workers to buy the tools of their trade, the nail salon employees were required to buy their own nail clippers, nail cutters, cuticle cutters and drills for artificial nails, the suit says.

In addition, the suit says that the owners, also in violation of federal law, forbade the workers from wearing masks or gloves to prevent harm to customers from potentially harmful chemicals and bacteria.

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