Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said he was creating a task force to investigate nail salons and crack down on worker abuse following a report of widespread exploitation and health problems of manicurists.
"We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights," he said in a statement.
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The task force will recover unpaid wages and shut down unlicensed businesses, Cuomo said. New health regulations will be created and implemented to require protective gear where warranted and increase ventilation in the salons that often reek of chemicals.
A two-part investigative series in The New York Times found nail salon workers were forced to toil long hours amid toxic chemicals performing manicures and pedicures for little wages. The newspaper also reported many workers had little, if any, breathing protection and suffered serious health problems.
Cuomo says the plans are taking shape after the reports last week. He said salons will be required to post signs in a half-dozen languages that inform workers of their rights, and officials will perform outreach to encourage workers to come forward to report abuses.
The state Department of Labor investigated 29 salons in 2014 — finding 116 violations. The Times stories were based on interviews with hundreds of salon workers.
Cuomo said later Monday that one of the problems with uncovering abuses is that many of the workers have "issues" with their immigration status and are afraid to contact authorities or a lawyer. Also, few workers have health insurance.
While members of the task force will not inspect every salon, "the nail salons need to know that there's a possibility that an inspector will walk in the door."