By Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez
Today I am convening an informational hearing in the Capitol as Chair of the Select Committee on Women in the Workplace, bringing together stakeholders to discuss the challenges faced in the industry and to hear personal testimony from nail salon workers. I’m encouraged to be joined by the Chairs of four other Assembly Committees and other legislators to begin the collaborative process we need to achieve the change these workers need.
Recent in-depth coverage in the New York Times revealed shocking, systematic abuse going on right under the noses of thousands of nail salon customers every day. The reports found employees living in squalor and isolation, underpaid or completely unpaid, and ravaged by health problems possibly connected to chemicals they handle on the job. It echoed and expanded upon reporting done recently in California, drawing new attention to deeply troubling working conditions in the nail salon industry across the country.
Today’s hearing is an important start to ensure that the employees of these salons are effectively covered by California’s workplace safety and wage and hour laws. These laws should guarantee all workers fair treatment and safe working conditions, and it’s our responsibility to make sure they work.
The simplest place to start is building stronger awareness and outreach into the licensing and certification process. Researchers have found salon owners are receptive to education about these rules, but too often they simply don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. By posting workplace laws in more visible places and in more languages, we can make the rules more accessible. Incorporating employee protection laws into the owner licensing process would establish a baseline that gives owners the ability and responsibility to follow existing state laws.
Building on emergency legislation passed recently in New York, we can explore giving the state increased authority to shut down nail salons and inflict harsher penalties on businesses that fail to comply with pay and licensing regulations. We can also look at creating a way for unlicensed workers to register with the state as a trainee, allowing them to work while studying for licensing exams.
Additionally, Assemblymember David Chiu recently announced a Healthy Nail Salon Task Force to begin investigating the wide scope of environmental and health dangers presented in the nail salon industry. I look forward to working with him to make sure that workers also have the health and safety protections they deserve.
The conditions that have been reported should be unacceptable in any circumstance, and we won’t tolerate any workers being treated as though they’re beneath the most basic protections at work. I look forward to working with my Assembly colleagues and the many responsible salon owners who treat their employees with respect to ensure that all nail salon workers are treated appropriately. Together, we can build stronger rules that work for everyone, giving both owners and enforcement officials the tools we need to ensure employees are safe and treated fairly. Achieving these crucial reforms must be a priority in the next legislative session.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez represents California’s 80th Assembly District, located in the mid-city and southern portions of San Diego County including San Diego neighborhoods from City Heights to San Ysidro as well as Chula Vista and National City. For more information on Assemblywoman Gonzalez, visit http://asmdc.org/members/a80/.