LOS ANGELES – Each time she sees another shuttered nail salon in Los Angeles, a piece of Dung Nguyen’s heart breaks.
Nguyen is somewhat of an expert on the industry and its work force, serving as the outreach and program coordinator for the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative.
“We’re on the front lines, we’re talking to people and we know they’re not being taken care of. And that just hurts,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen’s group, CHNSC, advocates for the state’s nail salon workers. She said about 70 percent of the work force is made up of Vietnamese immigrants and refugees.
The cause hits close to home because Nguyen also has family members who work or worked in nail salons.
“On average people make less than $400 a week,” Nguyen said. “The uncertainty of not knowing when they can go back to work is really hard for folks.”
Nguyen has been lending workers a hand applying for unemployment and PPE loans, which has been a frustratingly slow and cumbersome process. She said many of the workers now rely on food banks for their meals.
Some of the biggest struggles have been for nail salon owners who are responsible for two rents.
“Even with moratoriums in place, there have been salon owners with landlords bugging them to pay rent. We had one salon owner who paid a portion of her rent and gave him $500 and ended up with $15 in her bank account just to get him off her back,” Nguyen said.
Nail salons are not permitted to open until Phase 3 of Governor Newsom’s plan to reopen California.
But it won’t be a light-switch.
Nguyen says some workers already have anxiety over returning to such a close-contact environment.
“A lot of people have expressed legitimate fear of you know, ‘I’m afraid for my life to go back to work. Because I don’t want to get sick and bring it back to my family,’ but then if they don’t go to work then they don’t have the means to support themselves,” Nguyen said, getting emotional about the worries of the workers.
Nguyen hopes when it is time to reopen that clients are understanding of some the expected changes to service: Salon tables and seats will be shifted to social distance, masks and gloves will be worn by technicians and receptionists and there will be frequent sanitizing. Some salons are installing plexi glass and might increase the price of manicures and pedicures to offset the cost of the protective measures.
But most importantly, Nguyen hopes clients come back.
“A lot of these are small mom and pop businesses and they need your business,” Nguyen said.