New York’s nail salons must finally compensate their workers for wage theft

One year after launching a task force to look into abusive work conditions in nail salons throughout the state, New York governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered the payment of $2 million to hundreds of workers who have been denied overtime and paid less than minimum wage.

On May 18, 2015, governor Cuomo announced the creation of the Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force, just days after the New York Times published a 6,000-word piece exposing the exploitation of workers, especially Asian and Hispanic immigrant women, in the industry. The task force’s mandate was to educate the public about wage theft—the practice by employers of not paying workers their full wages, or not paying them at all—and propose new legislation to protect workers. According to the New York Daily News, the task force has started investigations into nearly 400 nail salons in the state of New York in the past year, and forced 143 of them to properly compensate 650 workers who were paid less than minimum wage.

Employers can steal wages from workers in several ways, according to governor Cuomo’s office. They may only pay workers in tips, offer them a daily rate that translates into a less-than-minimum-wage hourly rate, withhold final paychecks, or refuse to pay them for overtime. Employers might also charge workers for their uniforms, or not pay them during “training periods” during which they are effectively working.

Last Friday (May 6), governor Cuomo announced that the state of New York recuperated more than $10 million in stolen wages across different professions in the first three months of 2016. That money has been returned to more than 17,000 workers, with more than 11,000 of them in New York City.

On the New York Department of Labor’s website, any member of the public can report nail salons that they believe may be abusing workers.