By Gina Martinez
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) met with nail salon owners and Asian business leaders this week to discuss the hardships caused by new, strict state regulations. Laws meant to protect workers have cracked down on nail salon owners, who have told Kim that the regulations are punitive and impossible to abide by.
The controversy began with a February 2015 New York Times article that exposed the poor working conditions in nail salons across New York City, including Flushing. The article claimed nail salon workers faced racism, abuse, were paid well below the minimum wage and sometimes were forced to work for no pay. The response to the article was widespread outrage and in May 2015 Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced legislation to protect the rights of nail salon workers.
Measures included paying workers back wages, requiring all manicurists to wear gloves and publicly posting signs that inform workers of their rights in multiple languages.
“I’m determined to work closely with our small business owners on finding long-term solutions that truly improve conditions for nail salons in New York,” Kim said. “I continue to oppose punitive measures and unreachable mandates that will inevitably bankrupt hardworking small businesses throughout the state.”
Last month Cuomo announced that by October all new nail salons will need to have ventilation systems. Existing nail salons will have five years to install the ventilation systems. This is intended to protect workers and customers from inhaling harmful fumes, but the economic impact of the mandate will be severe according to Kim’s office.
New ventilation machines will cost thousands of dollars, and if existing nail salons are in older buildings that can’t handle refurbishing they will be run out of business, a spokesman for Kim said. Any new owners looking to start up a nail salon will face requirements that they had not planned on and that may be so pricey, that opening a salon will become impossible, he added.
Nail salon owners say they feel targeted and singled out. Peter Yu, of the Chinese Nail Salon Association of East America, told Kim that he thinks the regulations put too much pressure on owners.
“We work hard almost every day to put food on the table, and our members have always done everything they can to comply with the law,” Yu said. “In the last year alone, the state’s harsh regulations and rising costs have already forced many of us to close our shops. Now is not the time to further penalize immigrant small business owners, but instead a moment for everyone to come together and develop policies that help all New Yorkers, including employees, owners and customers.”
Kim has been outspoken in his support for nail salon owners and has worked with them to ensure regulations do not drive them out of business.
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