Kim wants better treatment of Asian nail salon owners

By Madina Toure

After more than six months of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to impose a state of emergency on the nail salon industry, state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) has introduced the Transparency in Enforcement Act to combat what he has called selective enforcement of the law against salons owned by Asian immigrants.

A number of angry nail salon owners waving signs attended the Tuesday crowded news conference.

The act will amend the executive law, requiring every state agency, board or commission that directly or by contract reports demographic data resulting from any inspections, pending cases or penalties to base the data on race, gender and region.

“It’s been six months of demonization and vilification of the industry,” Kim said.

At the news conference at the Mudan Restaurant in Flushing, at least 100 nail salon owners chanted phrases on signs they held up such as “Nail salon owners are NOT monsters!!,” “Don’t kill small business!,” “We are not criminals!” and “We need support, not harassment!” They also noted the majority of nail salon owners are Asian women, who are unfairly targeted.

Based on a New York Times investigative report in May, Cuomo launched a task force and imposed emergency regulations May 18 to crack down on nail salons, according to Kim.

The lawmaker charged that despite a new law restricting the state’s ability to unfairly target and single out one community, Cuomo has extended his state of emergency three times to unilaterally take punitive measures against nail salon workers and owners.

Peter Yu of the Chinese Nail Salon Association of East America said Cuomo’s action makes the industry “even more hostile than before.”

“Many of you know since May of last year…we small business owners are trying so hard to survive,” Yu said through a translator.

The Chinese and Korean nail salon trade groups teamed up to conduct a small business survey of 200 businesses—a roughly 5 percent sample of the industry—to measure the impact of Cuomo’s executive action against nail salons.

The survey found that since May, 54 percent of nail salons laid off workers.

Some 80 percent of nail salon owners found wage bonds to be unfair and burdensome and 28 percent encountered inappropriate behavior from investigators, communication problems or other difficulties during investigations, according to the survey.

About 23 percent of surveyed owners received fines and penalties from targeted enforcement and only one store had any issues with unpaid wages, the survey found.

About 17 percent closed their shops while 71 percent want to get out of the industry by selling or shutting down, the survey added.

Sangho Lee of the Korean Nail Salon Association called for more transparency in the inspection process, urging the state to help the workers.

“When the inspectors go to the nail salons, they don’t even talk to the workers … We think that the inspection is very biased,” Lee said through a translator.

The New York State Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force’s Bill of Rights for nail workers indicates that employees must be paid at least $6.60 an hour before tips for the first 40 hours per week and $8.75 an hour if they do not earn tips. Workers must earn $10.98 an hour before tips after 40 hours per week and $13.13 an hour if they do not get tips.

Joe Lin of the Chinese-American Nail Salon Association contended salon owners overpay their workers.

“They’ve been misleading the public,” Lin said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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