New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking emergency measures to protect the health and labor rights of workers at nail salons. The move comes just days after the New York Times published stories shedding light on widespread wage theft and worker health problems at the state’s growing number of nail salons, where the labor force is made up largely of female immigrants from South Korea, China and Latin America.
“We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights,” Cuomo said in a statement.
A new “enforcement task force” will conduct investigations of salons to ensure compliance with existing state labor law and implement rules to protect workers from chemicals found in nail products. That includes requirements that manicurists wear gloves to reduce the risk of contracting skin conditions like warts and masks to reduce exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde. Salons that are unlicensed or do not comply with orders to pay back wages will be shut down. Stores also will need to secure bonds or expanded insurance policies to cover claims for unpaid wages, and post notices in multiple languages informing employees of their rights.
The Times investigation found that many of New York City’s nail salons skirt basic minimum wage and overtime laws and sometimes even require new, inexperienced employees to pay before they start work.
The New York region has more nail salons than any other urban area in the nation, with the number of stores tripling over the last decade and a half.
Typically, newly proposed health and safety rules go through a lengthy review process and a public comment period before they are finalized. In this case, the state opted for emergency measures, because of what it considered the urgency of the issue.
“We cannot wait to address the problem,” the governor’s chief counsel told the New York Times.