Why it matters

The New York government has taken on two industries to increase employee protections: fast-food workers and nail salon employees. Governor Andrew Cuomo first announced the formulation of a state Wage Board tasked with investigation and making recommendations on increasing the minimum wage in the fast-food industry. The Wage Board—whose recommendations do not require legislative approval to be enacted—will hold two public hearings and release its recommendations in July. As for nail salon employees, a recently released report from the state’s Department of Labor triggered action by workers and government alike. The report documented underpayment and nonpayment of wages, as well as verbal and physical abuse of workers who are often immigrants and/or do not speak English. In response, Governor Cuomo announced the creation of an emergency task force geared toward implementing new regulations for the industry and helping recover unpaid wages for workers, and at least one putative class action suit has already been filed by a pair of salon workers.

Detailed discussion

Close scrutiny of two industries in the state of New York looks to result in higher wages and increased employee protections for fast-food workers and nail salon employees.

Having previously criticized the earnings of fast-food workers in the state, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he had instructed Acting State Labor Commissioner Mario J. Musolino to empanel a New York State Wage Board to investigate and make recommendations on an increase in the minimum wage in the fast-food industry.

Composed of at least three members, the Wage Board strives to represent different perspectives, with equal representation from labor, employers, and the public. Representing employers on the Wage Board will be Kevin Ryan, Chairman and Founder of Gilt, MongoDB, Business Insider, and Zola, as well as Vice Chairman of the Partnership for New York City; representing the public will be Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo; and on behalf of labor, Mike Fishman, Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union.

“If you work full time, you should be able to provide for yourself and your family and move beyond poverty,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “That is what the minimum wage is all about, but for too many fast-food workers in New York today that is simply not the case. The minimum wage must be a wage that allows for a decent living—not one that condemns hard-working people to an endless cycle of poverty and government assistance—and that is why I am taking this action. We must fulfill the promise of honor and justice for fast-food workers in New York, and I urge the Wage Board to stand up for what is right and help us move forward.”

Pursuant to state law, an appointed Wage Board may recommend changes to the minimum wage law or classification for a specific industry, and its suggestions do not require legislative approval to be enacted. The Wage Board will hold two public hearings on the issue: one in Buffalo and one in New York City, and is expected to release its recommendations in July. The Labor Commissioner will then have 45 days to act on the proposal and potentially increase the minimum wage for fast-food workers in the state.

The Governor then turned his attention to the nail salon industry. A report released by the state’s Department of Labor documented multiple problems for workers like manicurists and aestheticians, who are often immigrants and unable to speak English. In response, Governor Cuomo announced the creation of a multiagency task force that will establish new health and safety regulations for nail salon workers as well as recover unpaid wages. Businesses that fail to comply will be shut down.

Violations ranging from underpayment and nonpayment of wages to discrimination to exposure to dangerous chemicals were documented in the report, which the state agency released after investigating 29 salons in the state over the last year, uncovering a total of 116 labor law violations.

New safety regulations will include the use of personal protective equipment (such as face masks and gloves), and the addition of a personal fan at each workstation to improve ventilation for workers exposed to chemicals found in nail polish like formaldehyde and toluene.

Workers will also be paid a legal wage, according to the announcement, and the task force will work to recover wages owed. Salons will be required to either secure a bond or beef up insurance policies to cover claims for unpaid wages as a condition of licensure going forward. Workers will also be informed of their rights via mandatory postings.

To read Governor Cuomo’s statement on the formation of the Wage Board, click here.

To read Governor Cuomo’s announcement about the emergency task force, click here.

To read the complaint in Fernandez v. Nailsway, Inc., click here.