Gov. Andrew Cuomo Overhauls Nail Salon Policies After That 'New York Times' Investigation & It's The Right Response

Following a year-long New York Times investigation that exposed the systemic wage theft and labor abuse of New York City manicurists, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced extensive measures to protect nail salon workers and remedy some of the charges alleged against most the city's 2,000 nail salons. In a statement released Monday, the New York governor outlined several new policies for the state's nail salons to follow, including ordering employers to pay their workers back-pay wages. Cuomo said the new policies will be effective immediately.

Among the newly announced measures is a task force specifically assigned to investigate each nail salon in New York City and beyond, the governor said. The multi-agency task force will implement new rules about the chemicals used in nail salons, which Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir found in her two-part investigation may be the cause of miscarriages, cancer, and chronic illnesses among manicurists. Nir spoke with both nail salon workers and the doctors who treat them, the latter of whom say their patients have symptoms and illnesses similar to those who are smokers or have asthma.

Under Cuomo's emergency measures, nail salons will have to protect their workers from these potentially hazardous toxins by providing workers with personal protective equipment. The governor said the task force will "vigorously enforce existing regulations that grant all nail salon employees the right to demand and wear PPE [personal protective equipment] at any time."

Each manicurist station will also have a personal fan for proper ventilation. "Laws and regulations regarding ventilation will be strictly enforced," the emergency order stated.

“New York State has a long history of confronting wage theft and unfair labor practices head on, and today, with the formation of this new Enforcement Task Force, we are aggressively following in that tradition,” Mr. 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."

Task force members will also ensure that salon employers are paying their workers fairly — that includes giving them back-pay or unpaid wages. Nail salons will be required to "secure either a bond or expanded insurance policy to cover claims" for these back wages, the governor's emergency orders stated.

In her investigation, Nir found that manicurists were routinely underpaid or even not paid at all, relying on small tips for months on end. One manicurist interviewed, 20-year-old Jing Ren, received just $30 a day from her salon employer — a meager salary that came three months after she started working at the salon.

Nir added that out of 100 workers interviewed for the story, all but three had their wages withheld in violation of New York labor laws. The majority of manicurists interviewed also didn't receive anything close to minimum wage.

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To ensure that all manicurists know their rights, the governor said that nail salons will now be required to post notices of employees' "right to full, legal wages and a safe working environment" in their salons. The notices will be posted in several languages. Nail salons that don't comply with these new requirements will have their licenses revoked by the Department of State.

"This Task Force will crack down on these kinds of abuses in the nail salon industry, enforce all of New York’s health and safety regulations, and help ensure that no one – regardless of their citizenship status or what language they speak – is illegally victimized by their employer," Cuomo added.

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