All nail salons in New York City will now be required to display a “manicurists’ bill of rights” that’s easily visible to both employees and customers — the latest attempt from city officials to crack down on the rampant labor abuses in the industry detailed in a recent New York Times investigation.
At the beginning of this month, the New York Times published a scathing look at the minimum wage violations plaguing manicurists in the city, many of whom are undocumented immigrants. After interviewing more than 150 workers in the industry, reporters found that many employees weren’t making the wages required by law. Some weren’t paid at all. During an initial “training period,” some workers were actually required to pay their bosses for weeks — purportedly for the cost of getting trained — before earning any wages of their own.
Once that investigation came to light, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) moved quickly to reform the nail salon industry, creating a new task force to monitor evidence of wage theft and proposing legislation to give the state more power to shut down salons that are violating the law.
Now, the governor is unveiling a complementary public awareness campaign that seeks to educate employees and customers about the labor standards for salons.
The new bill of rights, announced on Friday, will be printed in 10 different languages and prominently displayed in nail salons across the city. In addition to detailing minimum wage requirements, the posters also explain that salon owners are legally obligated to take measures to protect their workers’ health, like providing face masks and gloves.
“These are your rights regardless of immigration status,” the posters explain.
CREDIT: New York State Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force
Teaching manicurists about their rights is one piece of the puzzle. The other aspect of the education campaign, according to Cuomo, is targeted at the customers seeking manicures and pedicures — who are being encouraged to take their business elsewhere if they notice blatant workplace violations at a particular salon.
In addition to the “bill of rights” posters, the city’s new task force also plans to distribute an information card to city residents with the “top five things to ask” when they’re deciding whether to patronize a business in the beauty sector. The suggested questions include: “Are workers paid at least the minimum wage and overtime?” and “Is the salon business license posted in plain view?” If customers have any concerns, they can call the Nail Salon Industry Task Force Hotline.
“We’re asking New Yorkers to help; we’re asking New Yorkers to get involved,” Cuomo said at a news conference on Friday. “Nobody can do it faster than the consumer can do it… If the owners of the illegal nail salons see that they are losing business, I think that is the most effective compliance mechanism we can use.”
The industry has also faced some pressure from workers themselves, some of whom have sought legal recourse after documenting the workplace violations in their salons. Employees at several nail salon chains have recently filed class-action lawsuits against their bosses for paying them well below minimum wage and denying them breaks.
At Friday’s event, Cuomo also acknowledged that these labor issues are not specific to the nail salon industry. Any sector that relies on a vulnerable workforce, like undocumented immigrants or low-wage workers, can more easily get away with prioritizing its profits over its employees. Across the country, employees who work at companies ranging from Walmart to TGI Friday’s to Subway have accused their bosses of stealing their wages. The issue has been getting worse in recent years. Government officials say that more companies are violating wage laws than ever before.