By Madina Toure
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that only 143 out of 5,000 nail salons are guilty of wage violations indicates that he has been unfairly demonizing Asian nail salon owners. Most of the salons are in Queens and Brooklyn.
Cuomo said Monday the New York State Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force has directed 143 nail salons to pay $2 million in unpaid wages and damages to 652 employees.
“New York state is cracking down like never before on the unscrupulous individuals that take advantage of the hardworking people they employ,” Cuomo said. “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work is a principle that this state was built upon and this administration is committed to stopping employers who exploit workers and deny them what they are rightfully owed.”
Kim said the announcement lacked transparency because Cuomo has not indicated how the figures were obtained, including comprehensive data for all the business owners inspected.
He also said that when the $2 million amount is divided up among the 600 employees, “it’s like roughly $2 to $3 a day for each employee.”
“Those workers that are getting the back wages, even if there’s one store, those workers deserve (it)…I’m not trying to downplay any of the bad operators and what they’re guilty of,” Kim said. “What I am questioning, though, is the one year of selective enforcement and the outcome that the governor produced. Does that warrant the decision making?”
After a New York Times investigative report in May on nail salon abuses of personnel, Cuomo launched a task force and imposed emergency regulations May 18 to crack down on violations.
Kim has argued that Cuomo has extended his state of emergency three times to unilaterally take punitive measures against nail salon workers and owners.
The assemblyman and state Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D-Brooklyn) are pushing for new legislation that would require the task force and other relevant state agencies to disclose more specific information about the sites probed.
Kim said Cuomo and his task force’s use of state resources likely led to micro-targeting of mostly Asian-American small business owners.
The Transparency in Enforcement Act would require state agencies to be more transparent in inspections by reporting on all closed or pending cases and making the region, gender and race of the business owners public information.
In May 2015, Cuomo formed the Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force to tackle exploitation and abuse of nail salon workers.
The governor said the task force, which is led by the state Labor Department, has opened investigations into more than 450 nail salon businesses and has completed 383 to date.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour