There are now new rules in place and new laws proposed to combat the wage theft, health hazards and illegal employment practices that are the ugly side of the quick beauty promised by the region’s ubiquitous nail salons.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo reacted quickly after a New York Times investigation found manicurists not being paid and/or facing health issues from the chemicals involved. The state’s moves — including new efforts to inform workers of their rights and legislation proposed Monday that would allow the state to shut down law-violating shops — are positive steps toward fixing those problems.
But what about the host of other industries that attract low-income, low-educated workers who may be here illegally? Are there safe working conditions, appropriate wages and fair labor practices in landscaping, construction, manufacturing, housecleaning, food preparation and similar industries? What about those who work at car washes or in laundromats and dry cleaners?
It is far easier to exploit workers when they can’t speak English, or when they are in this country without permission and believe they cannot complain. Business owners might think they can get away with it, especially without a widespread effort to regulate and investigate them.
Unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices aren’t new to the service economy. It’s likely that nail salons are just the latest example — and salon owners are simply the most recent ones to have been caught. Too many more industries’ bad practices are going unnoticed.
Job cuts have made it more difficult to keep trained eyes on troubled businesses. A year ago, the state comptroller found that the Department of Labor had a backlog of unfinished wage-theft investigations. The governor’s office says the backlogs were cleared up six months ago.
Regulators have to remain vigilant through enforce surprise raids and beef up investigative staffs.
If working conditions improve for manicurists, that will help. But don’t stop there. Use the opportunity to root out other instances of horrendous employment practices and to provide safe and appropriate workplaces statewide.