NY Lawmakers OK Tougher Rules to Protect Nail Salon Workers

New York lawmakers on Friday approved tougher regulation of nail salons, intended to help protect some 40,000 workers — many of them female immigrants — from getting shorted on pay and otherwise mistreated.

The Assembly's unanimous vote, following Senate approval two days earlier, will amend state law for the appearance enhancement industry, including manicurists, hair stylists, cosmetologists and estheticians. It adds sex trafficking and compelling prostitution to the list of criminal convictions that prohibit state licensing.

For proliferating nail salons, the bill specifically authorizes state authorities to shut those that are unlicensed and to fine or order shut those without a bond or liability insurance, while requiring financial regulators ensure bonds and insurance are readily available. It requires manicurist trainees to obtain a certificate to work under a licensed nail practitioner, and says one year's active training and a completed online course and an exam can qualify trainees for licenses.

"When we start to improve an industry like the nail salon business, that's based on an informal but shadow economy, with only punitive measures we may end up pushing those businesses farther into the shadows," said Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat and lead sponsor.

This bill strikes the right balance for empowering the work force, establishes penalties and due process to root out the bad operators and will improve an industry that contributes more than $2.7 billion in revenue for New York, he said.

The legislation, endorsed earlier this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders, followed a New York Times expose in May showing workers, many in the U.S. illegally and speaking little English, were paid far less than minimum wage for long hours and many suffered airway ailments. Cuomo subsequently announced an outreach campaign intended to better protect workers from abuse and health risks and said the state Health Department would review the chemical agents they use.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, said a previous state law required salon operators make masks and gloves available on request to protect workers against chemicals and fumes,. Now they will all have to make them available, she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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