By Lynn Edmonds
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) took issue with a New York Times article that suggested he had changed his stance on a bill designed to protect nail salon workers after he received campaign contributions from industry professionals.
The article reported that nail salon owners had donated about $60,000 – a number Kim disputes – to Kim since July, and linked that to what it described as Kim’s “evolving” stance on his own bill.
Kim vehemently denied the article’s insinuations. “It’s filled with inaccuracies and lies, and I think the main thesis, that I changed my tune because I receive contributions, is a 100 percent misleading thesis,” the Assemblyman said.
“All those donors, have, most of them, contributed before, prior to this year,” he added. “In reality, I’ve received more contribution from labor groups throughout the years, who were 100 percent for the wage bond.”
Kim said his two issues with the bill centered on the wage bond and inconsistent enforcement.
The bill refers to multiple “appearance-enhancement” industries, including “waxers, natural hair stylists, estheticians and cosmetologists,” but the assemblyman said it was only being applied to nail salons. “I continue to support the law, it’s my legislation that I passed,” he said. “But we’re having problems, which is the way that it is being enforced by the state of New York.”
A spokesperson for Kim said his other caveat with the application of the law centered on the wage bond. She stressed that the wage bond, which Kim publicly criticized, was not specifically mandated in the legislation. Bill A07630 mentions three possible options; a bond, liability insurance, or liability coverage through a bond. “I was always consistent being against the bond product for our community,” Kim said.
The nail salon saga began in May when the New York Times published a searing investigative report of the nail salon industry, detailing wage theft and unsafe working conditions, among other problems. The article shook consumers and politicians alike. Eleven days after the report was published, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office issued emergency regulations on the nail salon industry. Two days later, On May 20, the governor proposed a bill along the same lines. At this point, Kim took on the bill and began editing it, his spokesperson said.
Defending the assemblyman against allegations that he had flip-flopped on the bill, the spokesperson said that at one point Kim almost walked away from the legislation because he was not happy with it. What brought him back to the table, she said, was a concern that if the new bill was not passed, the state would continue to use the stricter emergency regulations instead.
The spokesperson said Kim made changes to the draft bill including requiring that wage bonds be certified by the State Department of Financial Services as “readily available” before salons were required to buy them, and generalized the regulations in the bill to the entire appearance-enhancement industry, including hair salons, spas and waxing places. “He added buffer language,” she said.
On July 16, Cuomo signed the bill into law. “As the main sponsor of this three-way agreement in the Assembly, we worked non-stop for weeks to strike a fair balance in protecting workers, encouraging good operators, and rooting out bad owners,” NBC News quoted Kim as saying at the time.
Three weeks later, on Aug. 7, the DFS announced they had certified the wage bonds. “We were really startled by how quickly it was signed,” Kim’s spokesperson said. She said they worried the agency was not going far enough in regulations the bonds.
On Aug. 10, Cuomo announced that nail salon owners would have to buy wage bonds within 60 days or be subject to fines. The following day, Kim released a statement questioning whether the wage bonds were truly ‘readily available,’ as DFS said they were.
Kim said he took issue with the wage bonds because they assessed risks and subsequently determined premiums based on the owner’s credit score and not their business records – a practice he said was “discriminatory toward minority and immigrant communities,” who tend to have less credit history and/or lower credit scores than whites and Americans.
Calls to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office were not returned as of press time.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana.