Labor Rights

New York Politicians, Advocates, and Activists Have Come Together to Protect Nail Salon Workers

Following a report by the New York Times on the exploitation of nail salon workers almost two weeks ago, New York state and city officials have partnered with advocates and volunteers to bring comprehensive educational programs and labor reforms to the 5,000 licensed salons in the state.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), who ordered emergency measures last week in the wake of the report – including posting workers’ rights information in salons in different languages, shutting down unlicensed salons, implementing new safety requirements, and creating an educational campaign aimed at employees and managers – has introduced a legislative package aimed at building upon those reforms and leading the way for long-term protection for nail salon workers. In addition, he announced a Nail Salon Bill of Rights on Twitter Wednesday, which includes information on the minimum wage and health and safety information for workers.

The Governor is also partnering with non-profit organizations including the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and Planned Parenthood of New York City to put forward a public education campaign around business owner obligations and workers’ rights – which will include in-person events, public service announcements, and materials in a variety of appropriate languages.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor, workers, owners and consumers to transform nail salons in New York into safe places that provide good jobs for workers – the majority of whom are Asian immigrant women,” said Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

“Now is the moment for all us to come together to directly address a crisis that affects the whole community,” said Grace Shim, Executive Director of partner organization MinKwon Center for Community Action. “We must involve employers, workers, and customers alike to develop long-term, multi-pronged, comprehensive strategies that both protect vulnerable, immigrant workers and support struggling, immigrant small-business owners.”

Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) has also been taking action to protect nail salon workers with a coalition of advocates at his side across the boroughs of New York City, including a “Day of Action” yesterday to educate nail salon workers and their employers about the health hazards of their industry, what’s required of salon owners, and what resources are available to workers if they are being exploited. Over 500 volunteers and city officials handed out fliers at more than 1,000 nail salons and canvassed in immigrant communities where salon workers congregate before the workday begins.

“We’re here to make sure that nail salons are healthy and safe for everyone,” canvasser and Nepali Workers advocate Luna Ranjit told ABC 7 in New York.

These efforts mark a stark change from the state and the city’s current systems in place for policing the nail salon industry. (Only 33 nail salon inspectors are employed by the entire state.) Now, the New York City Council is considering legislation that would assign letter grades to nail salons in the fashion of restaurant rankings and require more vigilant and regular inspection.

“During the 14 years I’ve worked in the industry, the city has never come to see how we are doping,” Dahime Asencious, a Latina salon worker, told the New York Times. “I have come to realize that we’ve been completed abandoned.”

Media Resources: New York Times 5/22/15; ABC 7 5/21/15; Governor Cuomo’s Office 5/18/15; International Business Times 5/20/15; Feminist Newswire 5/12/15

Support eh ERA banner