May 15, 2015 / 7:30 PM / 4 years ago

New York City pledges crackdown on nail salons that exploit workers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday announced a crackdown on nail salons accused of exploiting mostly immigrant workers by failing to pay minimum wage and exposing them to dangerous chemicals.

Using a range of tools from investigative subpoenas to worker education outreach, the city is moving to eliminate potential health hazards for workers in nail salons and to ensure fair compensation under labor and wage laws, de Blasio said in a statement.

“We will use all available powers to shield nail salon workers from deplorable conditions, empower them with awareness of their rights, and offer every other support we can to ensure the safety and dignity of our hardworking fellow New Yorkers,” de Blasio said.

The move comes a day after two New York City manicurists filed a proposed federal class action lawsuit claiming four nail salons routinely violated minimum wage and overtime laws. The lawsuit said employees at salons on Manhattan’s Upper East Side are paid $60 or less for 10-hour shifts and often denied breaks.

It also follows a series of investigative news stories published in The New York Times about rampant wage theft and hazardous conditions in the industry, which is regulated by the state.

The series prompted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to promise to create a task force to investigate nail salons and establish new rules to protect manicurists from harmful chemicals. Cuomo also said regulators would begin an education campaign, notifying workers of their rights in six different languages.

While the city has limited jurisdiction over labor and wage laws, a legal team from the city Department of Consumer Affairs will investigate employment agencies to be sure they are placing workers in salon jobs that pay at least minimum wage, de Blasio said.

The legal team also will investigative subpoenas to be sure manufacturers’ product and environmental claims are valid, he said.

“We cannot stand by while the vulnerable workers among us are exposed to toxic chemicals and equally toxic conditions of employment,” DCA Commissioner Julie Menin said.

To educate workers about their rights and employers about their obligations, the New York on May 21 will deploy to salons across the city 500 volunteers armed with worker information in multiple languages and city representatives will visit as many as 1,000 salons to speak with their owners.

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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