Less than a month after it first appeared, Sarah Maslin Nir's two-part report on systemic wage theft, rights violations, and dangerous working conditions in New York City nail salons already looks like a journalistic parable for the ages. Within hours, the exposé had sparked thousands of conversations, in news broadcasts and on social media, about how best to help the vulnerable employees Maslin Nir had described. As a result, New York governor Andrew Cuomo ordered, on an emergency basis, broad new protections for nail salon workers, and hundreds of multilingual volunteers fanned out across New York City, distributing fliers and talking to the workers about their rights. Today, New York's nail salon industry, which had been almost completely unregulated, faces some of the strictest standards in the country.
Unvarnished, as the series was called, is an object lesson in the power of careful, sensitive reporting and writing to expose and correct workplace abuse, a warp-speed, Twitter-enabled version of what Upton Sinclair did for the Theodore Roosevelt-era meatpacking industry. But it comes at a time when few American publications still employ dedicated labor reporters, and only a handful continue to support long-term investigations like Maslin Nir's ("Unvarnished" took 13 months to report). What might this mean for workers in the United States, especially in an era of weakened unions and new rights for American corporations?
Join New America NYC for a conversation with Sarah Maslin Nir about her experiences documenting the working conditions in New York City nail salons and about the particular challenges of contemporary labor reporting.Follow the discussion online using #NANYC and by following @NewAmericaNYC.
Sarah Maslin Nir
Reporter, The New York Times
Director, Breadwinning and Caregiving Program, New America
Author, The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love and Family