Workers and Advocates Applaud 'Historic Shift' and 'Significant Progress' Achieved by Governor’s Reforms
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the New York State Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force has directed 143 nail salons to pay $2 million in unpaid wages and damages to 652 employees. As the anniversary of Governor Cuomo’s creation of the task force, and subsequent enactment of industry reforms approaches, industry workers and their advocates are heralding this recovery as another example of the “significant progress” Governor Cuomo’s initiatives have ushered in.
“New York State is cracking down like never before on the unscrupulous individuals that take advantage of the hardworking people they employ,” Governor Cuomo said. “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work is a principle that this state was built upon and this administration is committed to stopping employers who exploit workers and deny them what they are rightfully owed.”
In May 2015, Governor Cuomo created the Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force to address widespread exploitation and abuse of nail salon workers. Since that time, the task force, led by the New York State Department of Labor, has opened investigations into more than 450 nail salon businesses, with 383 being completed to date.
Following the task force’s creation, New York State enacted a series of nail salon industry reforms, ranging from surety requirements to protective equipment standards to posting notices. The reforms include:
Bill of Rights: Nail Salons are required to post, in a place visible to all employees and the public, the Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights, which, in plain language, notifies workers of their rights to a legal wage and a safe working environment. The Bill of Rights has become a common sight in nail salons.
New Bond and Insurance Requirements: All nail salons—as a condition of obtaining a license—must secure a bond or insurance policy to cover failure to pay legal wages and other general business liabilities. In the event that a nail salon owner is ordered to pay back wages, the new requirement will ensure that the business has the critical funds to meet its legal obligation. Through April 8, some 4,000 nail salons across the state had secured a wage bond.
Training and Job Resources for Workers: The Governor introduced legislation to create new opportunities for unlicensed nail practitioners to register with the state as trainees, instead of relying on often prohibitively high cost education programs, so they may continue to work while studying for their licensing exam. With this tool, workers can more effectively obtain relevant training and explore opportunities in the industry without being held hostage to any employer. Further, all nail salon workers will have access to the full range of resources available through the Department of Labor to find a job. Through the first week of April, the state had issued more than 2,000 nail trainee applications.
Personal Protective Equipment and Ventilation Requirements: Owners must provide adequate supplies of appropriate protective equipment, such as masks and gloves. Regulations regarding new ventilation standards for nail salons have been posted for public comment. Many salon owners were previously charging manicurists for supplies such as gloves and nail clippers.
Licensing Exams in Additional Languages: The Department of State has begun administering license exams in Nepali, Tibetan and Vietnamese, in addition to English, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Russian and Chinese. Additionally, free training materials are posted on the department’s website and distributed through community centers to help workers more effectively learn the curriculum and study for exams.
To educate salon owners about the changes, the state held 34 information forums across New York, including some specifically for the Chinese- and Korean-American nail salon owners associations, with translation services available to those attending. In addition, the State distributed fact sheets on the new regulations in 12 languages.
Luna Ranjit, co-founder and executive director of Adhikaar, said: “There has been significant progress since Governor Cuomo implemented the reforms of the nail salon industry. These reforms included a historic trainee license program to bring unlicensed workers into the formal workforce, administering the licensing exam in additional languages to help workers with limited English proficiency, and a wage bond to protect workers from wage theft. State inspections found wage theft at many of the salons visited. Workers at those salons are now getting paid the hard-earned money they are owed.”
Charlene Obernauer, executive director of New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health, said: “NYCOSH has been proud to be a part of this historic nail salon industry shift as we approach the 1 year mark of Governor Cuomo’s regulations and legislation. In the past year, the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition has trained more than 1,000 workers on nail salon health and safety and we have assisted workers in applying for their licenses. Immigrant Asian and Latina workers now have more access to the licensing process, protections and training; and they know that the nail salon workers bill of rights and enforcement of the minimum wage and health and safety laws is on their side."
Kara Miller, Attorney, Virginia & Ambinder, LLP: “Industries like nail salons that overwhelmingly employ immigrant workers are particularly susceptible to abuse. Brave workers who risk their livelihood to speak out against these practices often win in the eyes of the law, only to find recovery impossible because the nail salon has closed shop. The same owners frequently open a new nail salon nearby, starting a legal shell game that can take years to find the proverbial pea under the right cup. The new laws help put a stop to these games. The workers we have spoken to have seen positive changes at their nail salons, such as being paid an hourly rate, receiving breaks, and being paid extra for overtime hours. Not one of their nail salons has been forced to close, nor expects to, because of the new laws. A business that must close because it cannot operate without underpaying workers or subjecting them to inhumane working conditions is not a loss to our community.”
Martha Narvaez, nail salon worker, said: “The changes have been noticeable, now we are not forced to work 13-hour days without proper hourly wages. Owners of salons cannot get away with free labor. If it's slow, we can go home, and if it's busy, we are happy to work more and earn more money.”
Blanca Chimborazo, nail salon worker, said: “I am so glad the government has stepped in. I have certainly noticed a change in the industry. At least now I am paid for all my hours, and the terrible abuse we suffered is no longer.”
Minerva Lopez, nail salon worker, said: “I am not afraid to fight for fair pay for myself and my co-workers. But knowing that the government is on our side, that they care, and that we can do something in an unjust situation, that is very special to all of us.”