New York's nail salon industry is getting overhauled after damning investigative reports

In the wake of last week’s bombshell New York Times report detailing the deplorable work conditions in nail salons, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday that a new multi-agency task force will vigorously investigate the industry and institute new rules aimed at protecting manicurists from wage theft and health hazards.

The emergency mandate is meant to expedite a reform process that would normally have to go through a time-consuming bureaucratic process, reports The New York Times.

After interviewing more than 150 nail-salon workers and owners over 13 months, The Times learned that salons often charge their new manicurists up to $US100 to work there, even though manicurists often work for no wages and subsist on meager tips until their employers decide they are good enough to start earning a wage.

Because nail-salon workers are technically considered tipped employees under state and federal labour laws, employers are allowed to pay them less than minimum wage as long as they are making up for it in tips. But manicurists’ tips usually fall far short of the minimum wage and employers rarely, if ever, make up the difference, according to The Times.

“New York State has a long history of confronting wage theft and unfair labour practices head on, and today, with the formation of this new Enforcement Task Force, we are aggressively following in that tradition,” Govenror Cuomo said in a statement. “We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights.”

Many manicurists reside in the country illegally and speak little English, making it easier for salon owners to exploit them, the Times found. As immigrants,  many are happy to have a job at all.

To address this problem, the task force will launch an education campaign (in six languages) to inform manicurists of their rights. Salons will also be required to post signs (also in six languages) informing workers of their rights — including, crucially, their right to be paid a wage.

The Times also found that the chemicals used in nail salons cause clear and serious harm to manicurists  —  such as m
iscarriages, respiratory problems, and skin infections — and that many salons actively discourage their employees from wearing “unsightly” protective gear. As a result, Cuomo’s new task force will also enforce new health and safety rules that make it mandatory for salons to provide their manicurists with gloves and masks. 

“The article highlighted a significant problem in New York State,” Alphonso B. David, counsel for the governor, told the Times. “We cannot wait to address the problem.”

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