Threading, Unfair Labor Practices, and Activism

Yes, like many of the ladies out there in blog-reading land we love (not the process, but the outcome) getting our eyebrows threaded and not waxed or plucked. I know for myself, I usually go to a small beauty shop where generally an immigrant South Asian woman has set-up shop by herself or has hired a few new arrivals to work with her. activism.jpgI personally like the environment of a small salon, versus the mega salon, but I knew before I passed judgment I had to check-out one of these mega-salons owned by South Asians. So, I walked into a massive ZIBA Salon one-day (one of their beauty magazines really caught my attention) looked at the price, felt the atmosphere and walked out. However, I got a good look at the threaders [not all were South Asian or female, but many were], their polished black uniforms, the people waiting in line to get their threading, and thought this is a pretty large business and they probably get paid pretty well and better than the workers in the small-salons. Low and behold I read about a recent protest against ZIBA Beauty Center by the women who work at their salons and SAN (South Asian Network).

The statement made in the announcement:

On January 15, 2008 fired workers from ZIBA Beauty Center and the community protested on Pioneer Blvd. in front of one of ZIBAs 11 stores. The protest came after several attempts to change the harsh contract which was being forced on its workers and after severe harassment by ZIBAs management. ZIBA is one of Los Angeless largest corporate beauty salons which specializes in mehndi (henna) and eyebrow threading and has been engaging in unfair labor practices against its workers. The new contract which workers were being manipulated and forced into signing, would have decreased workers commission percentage as well as moved them down the pay scale, despite the fact that ZIBA has increased the prices on its services, thus increasing its profit. ZIBA also has threatened its employees with lawsuits if they try to work for another employer and has refused to provide sick pay or any vacation pay to its employees

So, I thought basically the owners are pocketing all of the money and engaging in unfair labor practices because they think they own not only the salons but also their workers rights and freedoms as employees. Do they think they can continue this coercion in an effort to let their own pockets grow?

The announcement continued:

On January 11th, over 35 Ziba workers staged a walkout, refusing to sign the contract. Out of these, 5 courageous women lost their jobs on January 11th because they refused to continue being manipulated and abused.

Many workers suffer severe health problems due to the harsh working conditions. Most workers complain of severe neck, back and shoulder pain, and a few had even gone to the hospital and emergency room, where they were told that their work was causing a lot of health problems. This is due to the repetitive motions involved in threading which puts a lot of pressure on the body.

It was good to read that these women chose not to just endure the harassment because its only my job and there is no point in saying something because where else am I going to work. These women decided to fight back (despite their losses in income and the impact it may have had on their families) through protests and joining with SAN to advocate for their immigrant workers rights, even though they had lost their jobs.

Some of the workers had attended a townhall on Immigration and Workers Rights organized by South Asian Network (SAN) in November, 2007. These workers contacted SAN immediately after their walk out seeking community support for their effort. SAN joined the workers in their fight for economic justice and mobilized support from other community members and allies including legal guidance to better understand the depth of the harsh language of the contract which was termed indentured servitude by the attorney.

The outcomes of the protests and fighting back was:

On January 17th, the 5 former ZIBA workers, along with SAN came up with a list of demands urging ZIBA that the contract includes health insurance, sick pay, uninterrupted breaks and sufficient time to review contracts. Furthermore, SAN and the former workers demanded ZIBA remove its non-competition clause, as well as stop engaging in involuntary transfers, which was affecting workers by increasing their travel time and distances constantly and also to not retaliate against its workers if they desired employment elsewhere. ZIBA responded on January 23rd, claiming that it would provide the workers with breaks, cease all involuntary transfers once a worker had been there 1 year and also would not retaliate against workers anymore if they were to raise their voice against ZIBA. Furthermore, ZIBA claimed that it would not challenge unemployment benefits for the fired workers as well as provide current employees sufficient time to review contracts.

However, Ziba has now filed false claims of defamation and is be vague in its response about own the Art of Threading and The Art of Henna as propriety trade secrets (even though these beauty techniques having been taking place for hundreds of years and many of their South Asian immigrant workers have been knowledgeable and practicing these techniques many years before working for ZIBA.

The fight for justice continues as now SAN is facing false claims of defamation and ZIBAs vague response regarding propriety trade secrets and also what ZIBA considers sufficient time to review the contracts. On January 24th, the fired workers and SAN sent another demand notice to ZIBA to clarify this vagueness and be forthright in their response.

I found this form of activism very powerful because I was proud to hear about immigrant women (many of South Asian background) organizing and protesting for the protection of their workers rights through the support of a South Asian community action group. Women were owning their work and demanding the respect they deserved.

Have others heard of any other forms of similar labor organizing of South Asian immigrant women in the United States (I know it has taken place in the UK)?


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8 Responses to “Threading, Unfair Labor Practices, and Activism”

  1. Ashutosh says:

    Anu Tripathi, a state licensed aesthetician was abused (mentally, racially etc.) by Pyaara Spa & Salon in Harvard Square area of Cambridge, MA

    I know she was looking for a union in the state of Mass. but couldnt find any so she resigned and now is working in a very friendly MY Spa and Salon in Arlington.

    There is a need for South Asian network in many/allstates, otherwise this sort of abuse will be rampant.

  2. Ashutosh says:

    Anu Tripathi, a state licensed aesthetician was abused (mentally, racially etc.) by Pyaara Spa & Salon in Harvard Square area of Cambridge, MA

    I know she was looking for a union in the state of Mass. but couldnt find any so she resigned and now is working in a very friendly MY Spa and Salon in Arlington.

    There is a need for South Asian network in many/allstates, otherwise this sort of abuse will be rampant.

  3. Shardaloo says:

    Ashutosh… wow, I never thought I'd see that name posting on a Sikhi-related forum. =)

  4. Shardaloo says:

    Ashutosh… wow, I never thought I’d see that name posting on a Sikhi-related forum. =)

  5. Reema says:

    Oooo… interesting news Phulkari… I used to wonder what sort of employment practices Ziba had considering most of the women seemed to be recent immigrants. Great to see that that the employees have resisted!

    Women who normally go to Ziba should show solidarity with the employees by protesting Ziba (not using their services) until they drop the defamation suit and meet SAN and the employees' demands. I hope SAN is advertising this widely…

    Good luck to the employees in their negotiation!

  6. Reema says:

    Oooo… interesting news Phulkari… I used to wonder what sort of employment practices Ziba had considering most of the women seemed to be recent immigrants. Great to see that that the employees have resisted!

    Women who normally go to Ziba should show solidarity with the employees by protesting Ziba (not using their services) until they drop the defamation suit and meet SAN and the employees’ demands. I hope SAN is advertising this widely…

    Good luck to the employees in their negotiation!

  7. Saira says:

    Shardaloo

    I think Ashutosh's reply was for South Asian Women in spa and salon industry.

  8. Saira says:

    Shardaloo

    I think Ashutosh’s reply was for South Asian Women in spa and salon industry.