Thursday 18th January 2018,

Asian Americans

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New York Nail Salons Clipped; Owe Workers $2 million in Back Wages

posted by Randall

Nail salon

By Ed Diokno

New York regulators have directed 143 nail salons to pay $2 million in unpaid wages and damages to 652 employees, the New York Daily News reports.  The order comes as the anniversary of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s creation of the Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force and subsequent enactment of industry reforms approaches. Industry workers and their advocates are heralding this recovery as another example of the “significant progress” Cuomo’s initiatives have ushered in.

“New York State is cracking down like never before on the unscrupulous individuals that take advantage of the hardworking people they employ,” Governor Cuomo said. “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work is a principle that this state was built upon and this administration is committed to stopping employers who exploit workers and deny them what they are rightfully owed.”

Nail salons already paid $1.1 million in back wages earlier this year, as the state continues to probe the nail industry following last year’s New York Times investigative articles that found widespread underpayment and a pretty loose grasp of state labor laws.

RELATED: Nailed – Human trafficking in the Asian American community and the price of silence

Many salons employed undocumented workers who were forced to work for low wages out of fear of deportation. The shops were paying a weekly rate that was far below minimum wage, such as handing workers $200 for 40- to 50-hour workweeks. That is about half of minimum wage in the state of New York, which is currently $9 per hour. According to the NYTimes investigation by reporter Sarah Maslin Nir, some salons were paying workers nothing when they first started, until they proved their skills were up to par.

“Immigrant Asian and Latina workers now have more access to the licensing process, protections and training; and they know that the nail salon workers bill of rights and enforcement of the minimum wage and health and safety laws is on their side,” said Charlene Obernauer, executive director of New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health.

After the NYTimes expose’, Cuomo created the Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force to address widespread exploitation and abuse of nail salon workers. Since that time, the task force, led by the New York State Department of Labor, has opened investigations into more than 450 nail salon businesses, with 383 being completed to date.

Following the task force’s creation, New York State enacted a series of nail salon industry reforms, ranging from a workers’ bill of rights to protective equipment standards to posting notices in multiple languages including Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese.

A lawsuit filed by Korean and Chinese nail salon owners claiming that the original NYTimes articles were biased and questioning the need for state-mandated reforms, was dismissed by the New York courts in December 2015.

“The changes have been noticeable, now we are not forced to work 13-hour days without proper hourly wages,” said Martha Narvaez, a nail salon worker. “Owners of salons cannot get away with free labor. If it’s slow, we can go home, and if it’s busy, we are happy to work more and earn more money.”



(Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)

(AsAmNews is an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. You can show your support by liking our Facebook page at, following us on Twitter and sharing our stories).

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