By leslie Gevirtz
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nail salons in New York were warned on Monday to respect the rights of their workers or face closure under proposed legislation that has won the backing of immigrant groups.
The move followed a New York Times expose on the industry that highlighted unsafe working conditions with hazardous chemicals and unfair labor practices that included not paying the legal minimum wage or withholding pay entirely.
Most workers in nail salon are immigrants and the majority are women from Asia and Latin America.
"Our point is simple: exploitation has no place in the state of New York," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement to introduce the legislation that also introduces a public education campaign to help workers understand their rights.
"The rights of nail salon employees must be respected and we are launching an aggressive crackdown on the industry to make sure that happens."
The multi-pronged, legislative package gives New York's state department, which regulates the nail salon industry, the power to punish businesses that flout the law by shutting them down or impose heftier fines.
On the health front, it mandates adequate ventilation as well as sufficient supplies of masks, gloves and eye protection when employees are dealing with potentially hazardous chemicals.
The package addresses the issue of unlicensed manicurists by trying to make licenses more accessible for immigrant nail salon workers by offering guidelines in more languages including Nepali and Tibetan.
License exams will be administered in additional languages and workers will also be offered free training materials on the state department's website and expanded free English classes.
One change that went into immediate effect requires that every salon has an insurance policy or bond that covers business liabilities, especially in the event that owners are found not to have paid workers.
Previously if an owner was found to have violated the wage law they could sell their assets and claim an inability to pay. The insurance rule is intended to end that practice.
A workers' bill of rights, explaining their right to a minimum wage no matter their immigration status, must be posted in every salon.
Immigrant groups praised the governor's actions.
Miriam Yeung, of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, said she hoped Cuomo's "solutions become a national model for improving the quality of nail salon jobs".
(Reporting By Leslie Gevirtz, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)