Sammy Nickalls
May 11, 2015 12:39 pm

After a recent New York Times article issued a wake-up call to New Yorkers about the harsh reality of the city’s beauty industry—big changes are being made. In “The Price of Nice Nails,” Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir uncovered the atrocities and widespread exploitation happening inside of the city’s nail salons. After interviewing over 150 local nail salon workers, Nir found that a disturbing majority are grossly underpaid and incredibly unprotected, working for considerably less than minimum wage (sometimes for months with no pay at all) and practically non-existent rights.

Since Nir’s article was published last Thursday, the alarming news rapidly made the rounds all over social media, sparking an immediate call for change. And a few days later, that call was answered. Just yesterday, New York state governor Andrew M. Cuomo ordered emergency measures to “combat the wage theft and health hazards” that the city’s nail salon workers endure on a day-to-day basis, according to the New York Times.

“New York State has a long history of confronting wage theft and unfair labor practices head on,” Cuomo said in a statement, “and today, with the formation of this new Enforcement Task Force, we are aggressively following in that tradition. We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights.”

The emergency measures will become permanent in the coming months as a task force continues their research into the industry, but in the meantime here are the much-needed new rules for nail salons in New York. Hopefully, they set a precedent for salons around the country, and remind customers to look beyond their own nails to ensure their manicurists are treated with respect.

Salons will be required to post public signs illustrating the rights of their workers.

Last week’s article uncovered that many nail salon workers have to pay $100 or more to the salon when they begin working, and then must work for several months without pay to prove their worth as an employee—two practices that are incredibly illegal.

Now, the city’s salons will have to post signs informing their employees that it is against the law to work wage-free or have to pay a fee to secure a job. The signs will be posted in multiple languages, including Korean, Chinese, and Spanish.

All salons are required to be bonded.

This means that, via a contract with a bonding agency, if workers are found to be underpaid, they will eventually be paid. This amendment is to address the fact that many salon owners hide assets even when they are found guilty of thieving their workers.

All manicurists must wear gloves and masks.

This addresses issues listed in a separate Times article published the day after, entitled “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers.” The article, also written by Nir, illustrates that on top of the abhorrent wage issues in the industry, salon workers also are at risk of developing skin ailments and other illnesses due to the chemicals that salon workers are exposed to every single day.

Gloves will reduce the risk of chemical burns and skin ailments such as fungal infections and warts. Masks are currently included as well, but experts warn that masks give only the illusion of safety, and “do almost nothing to prevent exposure to chemicals, such as dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde, that are used in nail products and have been linked to leukemia and fetal defects,” according to the Times.

All salons must be well-ventilated.

This will reduce the risk of inhaling harmful chemical fumes that are illustrated in Nir’s second article.

Salon workers are encouraged to speak up, regardless of their immigration status.

This isn’t a rule for salons themselves, but is still an incredibly essential note regardless: Cuomo’s office highlighted that workers’ immigration statuses will not be questioned or investigated. This is the main reason why so many workers have remained quiet on the issue—because many are undocumented and thus are terrified that speaking up will expose them to government scrutiny. New York is taking major steps to ensure that workers know that “they have the right be compensated fully, regardless of their immigration status, and encourage them to report mistreatment,” notes the Times.

Major props to Governor Cuomo for swiftly taking action to amend the egregious issues within the nail salon industry. And even bigger props to the Times‘ Nir for proving that journalism and excellence in reporting can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Her work is also a reminder to be vigilante about the ripple effect of our beauty routine. We now know the real cost of a manicure, and while changes are being made, it’s up to us to make sure they’re put into action.

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