Nail salon workers just had a huge victory in New York

Tomorrow marks one year since the New York Times’ Sarah Maslin Nir published her stunning exposé of the abuses faced by manicurists working in New York City and the wider tri-state area. At the time, Nir revealed that many of these workers, who’ve immigrated from Asia and Latin America, are exploited and paid extremely low wages (sometimes $4-$5/hour) to spend more than 10 hours per day breathing in dangerous chemicals.

The backlash against the owners of these nail salons was immediate and swift, with the State of New York launching an official investigation and task force just weeks later. Today, that investigation has resulted in a major victory for nail salon workers as New York State governor Andrew Cuomo ordered salons to pay workers $2 million in back wages.

According to the New York Daily News, 143 salons of the 383 investigated so far by the Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force have been ordered to pay back 652 workers who were paid less than minimum wage or made to work overtime without compensation. Yes, that’s just a fraction of the abused manicurists in New York, which is home to more nail salons than anywhere else in the United States, but it is an extremely solid start for these women, who just a year ago were suffering in silence.

The state of New York has also begun putting certain measures in place to make sure that the rights of manicurists are protected long after the task force’s work is done. For one, every nail salon must now post a “Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights,” so workers know what is and isn’t legal. Nail salons are also now required to have a bond or insurance policy that will pay workers if they’re convicted of underpaying wages in the future. Meanwhile, there is currently pending legislation that will allow unlicensed manicurists to register as trainees, so they receive compensation until they are officially licensed.

It’s amazing what a year can do and we wish all the best for these women as they continue to fight for their labor rights.

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