Labor Rights

Governor Cuomo Issues Emergency Orders to Protect Nail Salon Workers

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered emergency measures this weekend to protect those in the nail salon industry.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

Cuomo’s actions fall in the wake of a New York Times exposé on the lives of manicurists in New York City detailing 10- to 12-hour shifts, poor conditions, health risks, low wages, and other exploitation.

“We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights,” Governor Cuomo said while announcing the launch of a multi-agency Enforcement Task Force aimed at addressing the exploitation of those in the nail salon industry.

Cuomo’s new actions include posting worker’s rights within salons in six different languages, shutting down unlicensed businesses, face mask and glove requirements, and other safety measures to protect manicurists from the harsh chemicals regularly used at salons. A campaign to educate salon staff, including managers and owners, will also be introduced. The campaign will encourage all employees, regardless of immigration status, to report mistreatment.

The NY Times article exposed the widespread mistreatment of manicurists and salon workers, many of whom have illnesses from the chemicals they regularly handle. Through 150 interviews in four languages, the NY Times found that manicurists are often paid well below minimum wage (sometimes they are not paid at all), are physically and verbally abused, and are discriminated against within the salons due to racial ethnic stereotypes.  These abuses are often exacerbated by the immigration status of many of the employees, as the majority are undocumented workers.

Last fall, Ms. Magazine wrote of the health risks that the chemicals in many personal care products pose for women. In her article “Skin Deep”, Heather White, the executive director of Environmental Working Group (EWG), details the unregulated or under-regulated chemicals that show up in women’s personal-care products. EWG created an online data base and tested over 70,000 personal-care products, finding shocking numbers of carcinogenic chemicals, many of which are associated with reproductive or developmental toxicity or hormone disruption.

Ms. also wrote about the startling findings of a report from Women’s Voices for the Earth, which details some of the many health risks salon workers face. Some of the findings included 60 percent of salon workers suffering from dermatitis and other skin conditions, decreased lung function, increased risk of miscarriage or fetal abnormalities, and increased risk of breast and other cancers.

The framework of the emergency status declared by Governor Cuomo means that policy changes regarding the nail salon industry in New York can be implemented more quickly, as more time-consuming steps such as periods of public comment are skipped over.

Media Resources: NY Times 5/7/15; Governor Cuomo Press Release 5/10/15;; Ms. Magazine 11/11/14; “Beauty and Its Beast” Report Nov 2014

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