By Madina Toure
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) has introduced a bill that would empower the Department of State to crack down on unscrupulous nail salons and make it easier for trainees to get licenses.
“When we identify an unlicensed business, it’s almost impossible for the state to step in and revoke their license or revoke their practice or shut the business down,” Kim said in an interview with TimesLedger.
The legislation would give the Department of State, which regulates nail salons, the authority to identify and shut down businesses practicing without a license and give trainees a classification of trainee or apprentice if they have completed a certain number of hours.
“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for trainees to get a license,” Kim said.
Last month, Kim, along with U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), business leaders and advocacy groups, launched the Healthy Nail Salon Network to combat illegal working conditions, an exploitable workforce and unrealistic pricing at salons.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also formed a multi-agency Enforcement Task Force to prevent illegal practices and unsafe working conditions in the industry.
Kim said they were aiming to get the bill passed before the session closed in Albany, noting that the bill had sponsors in both houses and that he is having internal discussions with Cuomo’s office. Kim held a meeting at his district office June 5 with the leadership of the Korean American Nail Salon Association and advocates.
At the meeting, concerns were expressed about the potential misclassification of trainees or apprentices as independent contractors and whether they would be guaranteed minimum-wage pay. They also wondered about due process when empowering the Department of State to close businesses as well as the execution of bond and liability insurance.
Advocates have worked closely with the task force to ensure that trainees without licenses are not targeted.
In the long term, owners and advocates hope to secure training dollars for a state-organized apprenticeship for beauty enhancement and nail salon technicians. There were also discussions about banning harmful toxic materials used in nail products.
Luna Ranjit, executive director for the Nepali nonprofit Adhikaar, said Cuomo’s task force has undertaken emergency regulations, including offering the nail salon license exam in Nepali, Tibetan and Vietnamese.
The New York Times reports on salon conditions have employers worried they will be caught for not paying minimum wage and overtime, Ranjit said.
Grace Shim, MinKwon Center’s executive director, said the reports led to a “big upset” in the industry but that the Korean American Nail Salon Association has been working to educate workers.
“I think there is a real sort of desire and a willingness to sort of change in recognizing that some of the practices have to change,” she said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour