The state legislature reached an agreement on a law that would more strictly regulate the state’s nail shops, an expanding industry known for often operating without licenses and paying well under minimum wage, many times forcing workers to labor in deplorable conditions.
The bipartisan bills were introduced at the request of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shortly after a report in The New York Times uncovered the out of control exploitation of nail workers, a vulnerable group made up largely of immigrants, many of whom are undocumented and thus readily exploited, and work for little or even no pay, existing only on tips.
Pending approval from the Assembly and the Senate, under the new law running an unlicensed salon would become a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500. The New York Department of State would also be able to shut unlicensed businesses.
Immediately after The Times’ articles about nail salons were published in May of 2015, the governor convened a task force to address issues in the industry, such as unpaid wages, tax fraud and not carrying workers’ compensation, as business owners must.
According to the NY Times’ article, manicurists are often subjected to long 12-hour shifts and are paid as low as $30 a day, after an extensive learning period where the workers have to pay owners for the opportunity, as well as work for free until the owner deems the worker worthy of making a wage.
Under the new law, nail salons would be required to carry a type of insurance against wage fraud, so that in the event the employers are found to have underpaid workers, the owners cannot rapidly sell their assets and claim to be unable to pay — a tactic often used in such cases.
Several emergency regulations to protect the health of workers were also put into place, like making gloves mandatory when chemicals like acetone are handled by workers, many of whom suffer from burning eyes and throats, and even more serious problems like cancer and miscarriages that may be linked to the chemicals they touch and breathe every day.
In addition, manicurists have long been required to obtain a license in order to work but in reality a large proportion do not. The new law would create a trainee class, which would allow a new worker to register with the state and, for a period of time, practice the trade with hands-on experience and classes while working toward obtaining a license.