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New York State Promises Crackdown on Nail Salon Abuses

Lisa Moon, left, owner of Castle nail salon, manicures a customer at the salon she has owned for 16 years without "complaints," Jan. 8, 2015, in New York City.

Officials in New York said they will crack down on unlawful conditions in the nail salon industry following an investigative report published in the New York Times.

Governor Andrew Cuomo this week announced the launch of a multi-agency Enforcement Task Force that will move immediately to prevent unlawful practices and unsafe working conditions in the industry.

The group will consist of elements from New York’s departments of State, Labor, Health, Taxation and Commerce, as well as the Worker’s Compensation Committee.

Some of the emergency measures include implementing new health and safety regulations for the manicure/pedicure industry, taking legal action to regain back wages [for workers], and issuing notices and fines for illegal behavior.

Some of the new safety requirements include having employees wear gloves and surgical masks, use personal electrical fans, and require the nail salon to have good ventilation. Businesses also will be required to carry financial insurance to ensure that employees get paid.

Nail salons also will be required to post employee compensation and safe employment rights in six different languages.

Salons that have received a written warning from the police also will be required to place a notice in their shop window of that warning. Many of the workers are not lawful residents of the United States, but police say they will not check the immigration status of workers when investigating these kinds of cases.

Shasha, a former owner of a nail salon in New York who only wanted her first name used, told VOA she did not think the pay for nail salon employees is as bad as it was described in the article.

But she said the working conditions are very poor. She said most of the shop owners in this industry don’t buy insurance for their employees and there are no fans to ventilate the air, leading many employees to suffer from skin or eye irritations.

“Go ask a dermatologist, they all know," she said.

Edward Fang is the executive director of Indochina Sino-American Community Center. He said a 55-year-old Vietnamese American told him last week that he couldn’t work in nail salons anymore after two decades in the industry.

“The main [issue] is that the chemical odor is too strong. He worked almost 20 years and his health was really bad. Both his appetite and sense of smell were seriously decreased. His health broke down and he had no strength," Fang said.

Many harmful chemicals are used in the nail industry, including dibutyl phthalate, methylbenzene and formaldehyde, all of which have been linked to birth defects and leukemia. The New York Times report said many female workers suffered from miscarriages or other illnesses.

Li Jinjin, a licensed lawyer in New York, said the governor’s announcement is very positive for protecting employees, no matter where they came from and what language they speak.

He thought the measures the state is taking will improve wage, insurance and unlicensed business problems, but only in the short term.

“First, competition is relatively serious. Because Koreans have opened many [nail salons], in recent years many Chinese [shops] have sprung up [as well]. The Chinese mutually depress prices, and just like the Koreans, they have staked everything [on this], so [Chinese] prices are comparatively lower than the Koreans.'”

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.