By Madina Toure
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) said his position on nail salon legislation has been consistent, despite a New York Times article claiming he changed his stance after receiving donations from two trade associations.
For his part, Kim contends Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is not fairly implementing the law the Queens official proposed.
In July, Cuomo signed into law a bill, introduced by Kim, that would shut down unlicensed nail salons and grant trainee status to vulnerable unlicensed workers following a Times report in May calling attention to widespread abuse in the nail salon industry. The Asian-American community thought it was unfairly targeted by the bill.
“This administration has agreed to sign a piece of law, but they’re not administering and implementing the law that they agreed to and as a legislator, I have every right to ask why isn’t this administration implementing every intent behind the law that they agreed to,” Kim said in an interview.
In a Nov. 8 article, the New York Times claimed that Kim started to publicly question the law, particularly the provision that seeks to protect workers from wage fraud, attributing his shift in position to contributions from nail salon owners to his campaign.
The report said nail salon owners donated nearly $25,000 at a fund-raiser for Kim in July that was co-hosted by Sangho Lee, the president of the Korean American Nail Salon Association, but it noted that in mid-September, he returned a $5,000 contribution from the Korean nail association and $2,000 given to him by the Chinese nail association.
Kim said he has been consistent in his stance against Cuomo’s unilateral decision to impose an “overburdensome and unreachable mandate” on small business owners—a wage bond requirement that seeks to ensure workers who experience wage theft are compensated—and that the Times chose to follow a different narrative.
He said that as soon as the Chinese and Korean nail salon associations approached him seeking advice on the possibility of suing the Cuomo administration, he returned their contributions.
The two groups filed the lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Albany in September against Cuomo and the state of New York in September. The groups are awaiting the court’s decision on their motions for relief.
“I on my own decided it was the right thing to do to return those checks,” he added.
Jake Dilemani, the groups’ spokesman, said they have always supported protections for nail salon workers.
“The associations look forward to working with Governor Cuomo’s administration to find a workable way to protect the tens of thousands of workers who are employed by the nail salon industry,” Dilemani said in a statement.
Cuomo issued emergency legislation using his own executive power to push forth the wage bond, Kim said.
He said the law mandates that Cuomo has to use an independent agency to ensure that the bond product is readily available in a competitive market and that the provision be applied to the entire appearance-enhancement industry, he said.
But Kim said the administration has been selectively enforcing the wage bond primarily on Asian-owned nail salon owners.
“I haven’t heard a peep from nail salons in upstate New York,” he said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour