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Groundbreaking nail salon legislation passed in New York

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

New NY nail salon law will protect both workers and consumers

A recent New York Times article exposed the ugly underside of the nail salon industry in New York City. After the report went viral, many called for change in this industry that heavily exploits its workers. Now the state of New York is actually doing something about it.

Last week, the New York State Assembly passed legislation A. 7630A/S. 05966, a bill that will protect the rights and safety of both nail salon workers and consumers. The bill is expected to be signed swiftly into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

While it may seem like this bill is simply a Band-Aid being used to cover such a large problem, the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum — an organization dedicated to supporting Asian and Pacific Islander women — says the bill will actually protect nail salon workers from exploitation and “improves safety” in an industry where lack of access to licensing has "driven down labor standards."

Nail salon workers — many of them young women from Asian countries — face a number of challenges on the job, from wage theft to unsafe working conditions. This bill aims to address these issues and hopefully make the nail industry one that women can feel secure both working in and patronizing.

After the New York Times article came out, many women who frequented low-cost nail salons admitted to not realizing the extent of exploitation that occurs and questioned whether they would continue going to get their nails done. Some wondered how hard it would be to get ethical manicures or pedicures. Others wondered if there were ways to help workers, many of whom know limited English. This new legislation hopes to keep the nail industry thriving by protecting both workers and consumers. Under the new law, those operating unlicensed nail salons will face harsher penalties, including closure, fines and imprisonment.

One aspect of the new bill that will help everyone focuses on safety and cleanliness. The bill creates a path to full licensure for all nail salon workers who were unable to obtain one before, either due to language, training or cost barriers. Workers who aren't licensed can register as trainees and work legally as apprentices until they are completely certified. And there will be a new training curriculum that will focus on infection control and bacteriology — ensuring the salon is safe for both employees and those coming in for manis and pedis.

Activist groups aren't stopping with New York, though. "We urge states across the country to follow this example and take similar action," advised Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.

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