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NY State Government Cracks Down on Nail Salons Following Exposé (Updated)

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Following a New York Times two-part report on the awful conditions that nail salon workers endure—from wage theft to serious health hazards—Governor Cuomo has issued an emergency multiagency task force to investigate New York State's salons, inform workers of their rights, and institute safety measures to reduce exposure to dangerous chemicals, the paper reports.

"We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights," the governor said in a statement. As of 2012, there were 3,600 registered nail salons in the state, and almost 2,000 of them were located in New York City.

Salons are immediately required to pay back wages to workers and could face a shutdown if they don't comply, and will need to maintain a contract with a bonding agency to ensure that workers receive the money that's owed. Each salon will also need to publicly post signs that inform workers of their right to wages—including that working for free during a "training period" is illegal, as many salons currently do.

These signs will be written in half a dozen languages, including Chinese, Korean, and Spanish, so they can be understood by the majority of workers. Many nail salon employees are undocumented immigrants and have thus been afraid to speak out about their conditions; hence, these emergency measures will also include an education campaign that'll inform workers of their rights and encourage them to speak up in the face of abuse without fear of deportation.

Regarding the toxic chemicals that these employees face daily—exposure to which have led to everything from chronic coughs to multiple miscarriages—salon employees are now required to wear gloves and masks (though whether these masks are truly helpful is still up for debate), and salons will be required to have proper ventilation.

"The article highlighted a significant problem in New York State," Alphonso B. David, counsel to Governor Cuomo, told the paper. "We cannot wait to address the problem."

Update: On May 29th, the New York Times reported the introduction of a bill of rights for nail salon workers, which are required to be hung in plain sight much like restaurant letter grades and "Employees Must Wash Hands" signs in the bathrooms of food establishments. Available in ten languages, they detail safety precautions and the minimum wage employers should be providing, plus a phone number to call to report violations.

The government also plans on educating consumers with an information card detailing what they should look for in nail salons, including these new bill of rights posters, proper ventilation, and business licenses. "We're asking New Yorkers to help; we're asking New Yorkers to get involved," Governor Andrew Cuomo said at the midtown news conference introducing these signs, adding that customers should "walk out the door, go down the block, [and] patronize another business," if they spot violations.