New York Makes Another Move To Protect Nail Salon Workers

Update: The New York City public advocate's office just announced another measure to protect nail salon workers and their patrons: an air-quality control program. Starting in January, private equity firm Pegasus and the Lighting Science Group Corporation will begin rolling out desk lamps containing sensor chips to measure the presence of chemicals (mainly the "toxic trio" of toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and formaldehyde, which have proven health risks), reports The New York Times.

The information from the sensors will be available through an online dashboard, an app on salon managers' smartphones, and a colored indicator on the lamps — so consumers can also be informed of the presence of chemicals in the salon. While many are happy about the program, some worry that the placement of the sensors might not be indicative of the true risks, and that the standards in place aren't strict enough. Others see it as an unnecessary in-between to creating real change. “If something is a toxic chemical, you don’t need to measure it — you need to get rid of it,” Cora Roelofs, an assistant professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University, told The New York Times.

The group will initially place 50 lamps in 35 volunteer salons, which is a small step but hopefully a greater leap in creating a culture of accountability in New York and beyond.
Updated June 19, 2015.
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Update: Today the New York State Legislature passed a new law that will make running an unlicensed salon a misdemeanor, complete with jail time. It also creates a new class of nail-salon workers — trainees — who will register with the state and work towards obtaining their licenses while on the job. What's more, infection control and bacteriology will now be part of the training curriculum, which will hopefully reduce health hazards for employees and their customers.

“This legislation will quickly expand the tools and resources at our disposal to bring this abuse to an end,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “May this also serve as a notice to the employers of all other industries: New York will vigorously uphold the high moral principles of this state to protect all workers."
Originally published May 18, 2015.

For the past few weeks, The New York Times' investigation of New York City nail salons has been all that anyone can talk about — and for good reason. Suddenly, the harrowing cost of our $10 manicures was uncovered. After revealing the shocking working conditions at many establishments, Sarah Maslin Nir followed up with an equally upsetting look at the health ramifications of working at an NYC nail salon.

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced emergency measures to improve conditions and crack down on exploitative employers. Today, he is expected to go one step further by introducing legislation that will not only make it easier for New York’s State Department to punish salon owners who flout the law; it will also create a new trainee status for employees who are working toward their license.

"Our point is simple: exploitation has no place in the state of New York," Governor Cuomo said in a statement. "With new legislation and emergency regulations, a public outreach campaign in multiple languages, and a thorough investigation of the chemicals that are used, we are standing up for those who have been unable to stand up for themselves. Today, New York State is sending the message loud and clear: We will not tolerate abusive or unsafe working conditions — period."

Photo: Courtesy of @handlewithcarenyc.
While it's heartening to see such swift reaction from regulators, some New Yorkers are also getting involved on a more grassroots level. One example is Pippa Lord, whose Handle With Care hashtag campaign aims to spread awareness and keep the conversation around the issue going on social media.

"We all have short-term memories, especially when it comes to social issues, but while the press is still hot, we hope to rally many people behind Cuomo’s efforts so that the message echoes further," Lord told us via email. "Our dream is to build a community of women, beyond New York, who demand socially responsible service throughout all facets of the beauty industry: massage, facials, hair care, waxing, and so on. At its core, our cause is asking women to show kindness and compassion to others."

Want to get involved? Check out handlewithcarenyc.com for more details on the campaign, and if you believe that your local salon is engaging in illegal behavior, call the Labor Department hotline at 1-888-469-7365.
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