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Wednesday, Jun 17, 2015, 11:28 am

New York State Legislators Have Just One More Day To Pass a Bill Protecting Nail Salon Workers

BY Karen Gwee

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In addition to the bills regarding rent regulation and sexual assaults at state schools, the nail salon bill which seeks to end the exploitation of salon workers is unlikely to be passed in time. (Angie Chung / Flickr)  

Will exploited and underpaid nail salon workers in New York receive legal protections against unscrupulous employers? New York State lawmakers have just one day left in this year's legislative session to answer that question as two bills introduced by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo remain on the table.

After the exploitation of nail salon workers in New York came to public attention with a New York Times investigation of 150 nail salons over 13 months, Gov. Cuomo announced on May 18 legislation, emergency regulations and a public outreach program to protect these workers. Sarah Maslin Nir of the Times had reported on widespread wage theft, exposure to dangerous chemicals and ethnic discrimination in the industry.

Cuomo's proposed two-pronged legislation would authorize the Department of State to shut down businesses not in compliance with the law and protect unlicensed manicurists from exploitative apprenticeship programs by classifying them as 'trainees.' Nir had reported that new manicurists often pay upwards of $100 as training fees, doing weeks or months of unpaid work as apprentices.

"Our point is simple: exploitation has no place in the state of New York," Gov. Cuomo said of the measures in a press release. "The rights of nail salon employees must be respected, and we are launching an aggressive crackdown on the industry to make sure that happens."

The trainee classification in particular would provide unlicensed manicurists with proper training and give them the opportunity to be licensed after at least a year of apprenticeship. "They will not be held hostage by any one employer. They will actually own their skill," the governor's counsel Alphonso B. David told the Times.

But with just one day to go in this year's legislative session, the two bills, filed May 20 and June 14, still have not been voted on. Numerous big-ticket issues such as rent regulation laws and sexual consent college policies also remain unresolved.

On Monday, members of the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition called on the legislature to pass these bills, stressing the urgency of reform. "The Governor and the general public understand the urgency of improving nail salons in New York State; it is time for the legislature to act boldly and work to improve this industry," said coalition co-founder Charlene Obernauer in a press release.

Luna Ranjit, another co-founder, said: "The trainee program will enable unlicensed nail salon workers to come out of the shadows by empowering them to carry their own licenses, and protect them from exploitation by abusive owners. Nail salon workers and customers can't wait another day for change."


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Karen Gwee is a Summer 2015 editorial intern at In These Times. She is a rising junior studying journalism and English at Northwestern University, and she tweets at @karen_gwee.

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